The Decalogue Films of Krzysztof Kieslowski: The Essentially Christian World-View of an Atheist*
The issue of religious and Christian belief among artists, and in the case of my research, filmmakers, is a point of considerable interest in the ever more crucial dialogue between religion and culture. The issue raises a variety of questions regarding cinema. How can religious belief or non-belief or uncertain belief be discerned and specified in the filmmaker’s work? Is belief necessary in the filmmaker who proposes to make a film about Jesus or about Christian experience? Is the believing, card-carrying Christian better equipped than others to make such a film? Should a distinction be made between explicit belief and implicit belief? Or between firm, orthodox belief and agnostic, struggling belief? Can a non-Christian filmmaker, a Buddhist or Muslim for example, make a film that has relevance for the Christian culture and belief? Is Christian moral behavior a necessary prerequisite in a filmmaker? The belief “card” is one that is sometimes played openly by filmmakers, often, unfortunately, as a stratagem for the marketing of a film. For example, when The Last Temptation of Christ was released in 1988, the Italo-American Martin Scorsese, nervous about the public outrage over his “scandal” film, proclaimed, rather too insistently, that he was a catholic and that he even had studied a catholic seminary, as if somehow that justified the confused vision and excesses of his film. Franco Zeffirelli repeatedly has defended his Jesus of Nazareth (1977) as the finest of the Jesus films, by insisting on his own orthodox Catholicism and by questioning the value of rival Jesus films on the basis of the nonbelief and unorthodox moral behavior of their directors. More recently Mel Gibson made much of his own catholic belief and practice as a justification for claiming the maximum authenticity and validity of his The Passion of the Christ (2004), claims that have been questioned by many critics.1 On the other hand, a number of films of religious Christian-catholic themes and content, films very well-received and respected in church circles, have been made by directors who openly admit their positions of non-belief: Alain Cavalier’s Thérèse (1986), John Duigan’s Romero (1989), The Seventh Chamber [La settima stanza] (1995), by Marta Meszaros, and, most recently,Die Grosse Stille [Il grande silenzio] (2005), by Philip Grönings. No doubt the best example of this apparent paradox is The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. When the film came out in 1964, it was strongly criticized by the Vatican and condemned by many catholic groups, mainly because its director, Pier Paolo Pasolini, was known to be a Marxist, an atheist and a homosexual; however, thirty-two years later, when the Vatican published a list of the greatest films of all time, Pasolini’s Gospel was the only Jesus film included: evidently the director’s belief/non-belief and behavior were no longer considered an absolute criterion for orthodoxy and validity. A further and fascinating aspect of this issue is the case of film directors who, while raised catholic or Christian, have lost or renounced that faith, and yet whose work continues to be imbued with details, themes or more importantly, the spirit of that faith. Ingmar Bergman is the obvious and most striking example, who after more than sixty years of filmmaking, continues to struggle with the God-question in his work. The Canadian director, Denys Arcand, in Jésus de Montréal (1989) and other films, seems unable to shake off his catholic roots, also the case with Francis Ford Coppola—a fact most evident perhaps in The Godfather trilogy, and especially in Godfather Two (1972)—and also Pedro Almodovar, whose recent film, Volver (2006), reveals some clearly Christian themes. One of the most notorious [trasgressivi] enfant-terribles of recent cinema, Abel Ferrara, in his recent and award-winning film, Mary (2005), examines with...
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