Mass Hysteria

Two New Inflammatory Films Get the Catholic Church Hot and Bothered

How the church's cine-authority has atrophied in recent years is evident in its unbroken chain of success in promoting those films it most wants to suppress. Mullan is positively gleeful about the reams of coverage The Magdalene Sisters received courtesy of the Vatican's ire ("I mean, are you guys working for me?"), while Carrera deadpans, "We thought perhaps Pro-Vida could open a publicity office at the [Mexican] Institute of Cinema."

This pair of dustups differs from most of the church's art-censorship efforts, however, in that the target works do not quarrel with scripture or traffic in irreverence. They do not, say, parody the Last Supper, as does Buñuel's Palme d'Or winner Viridiana (1961), which was banned in Spain and seized in Rome and Milan, or mock the Crucifixion, as does Pasolini's La Ricotta (1962), which earned the Italian director a four-month jail sentence for blasphemy. Jesus isn't gay (Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi, 1998) or Alanis Morissette (Kevin Smith's Dogma, 1999). Nor does he fantasize on the cross about domestic partnership with Mary Magdalene (Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, 1988) or plunge into a vat of urine (Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, 1989), and his mom isn't adorned with elephant dung (Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary, 1999), and his canonized followers don't make out in church with some girl in a slip (Mary Lambert's "Like a Prayer," 1989).

Rather, The Magdalene Sisters and The Crime of Father Amaro excoriate the church as a damaging sociopolitical force. "I never intended to criticize faith," Carrera says. "This film is about the political institution that we happen to call the Catholic Church." Mullan—who reluctantly labels himself "agnostic, I guess"—agrees. "The Vatican press condemns [The Magdalene Sisters] as an anti-Catholic film. It's an anti-Catholic Church film, because the Catholics are the victims here. This is about exposing what the church did to Catholics, and it's a pro-Catholic film in that respect.

Y Tu Padre También: Gael García Bernal in The Crime of Father Amaro
photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Y Tu Padre También: Gael García Bernal in The Crime of Father Amaro

"It was surprising to me that many of the women remained devout," Mullan continues. "The ones I've met still go to chapel, which is a profound kind of rebellion, in a weird way—why would you remain a Catholic after that? They think, You're not going to take that away from me. You took my whole fucking life away, but you're not taking this—that's my God."

"The Pope Says 'Dope': The Vatican's Favorite Films by Celluloid Sinners" by Jessica Winter

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