Peter Mullan and Carlos Carrera might be on the Catholic Church’s blacklist now, but when it comes to impious directors, the pontiff’s crew isn’t one to hold grudges. Witness “Some Important Films,” an unexpectedly heterodox roster of 45 features compiled to mark the centenary of cinema. Alongside givens like It’s a Wonderful Life and biopics of the saints, a handful of the choices seem to double as offers of expiation to the church’s most notorious celluloid sinners. Herewith, a few filmmakers who straddled the sacred and the profane.
Ingrid “Joan of Arc” Bergman’s corruptor scores a hat trick on the papal list, including a mention for The Miracle (1949)—which is somewhat miraculous in itself, since the Vatican’s censorship wing declared his parable of the virgin birth “an abominable profanation from religious and moral viewpoints.” After Catholic protests, the New York Board of Regents withdrew the film from exhibition, a move later overturned by the Supreme Court in a landmark 9-0 decision.
The L’Age d’Or provocateur makes the cut for Nazarín (1958), which chronicles a Christlike priest’s mounting despair as he suffers at the hands of those he tries to help. Buñuel was irritated to find he’d accidentally pleased the church he despised, later writing, “I was actually invited to New York, where the abominable Spellman’s successor, Cardinal Somebody-or-Other, wanted to give me an award for the film.” Buñuel later incorporated a daydream sequence into The Milky Way (1968) in which the pope faces a firing squad.
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Just two years after landing in prison as a blasphemer, Pasolini won the grand prize of the International Catholic Film Office—and later a spot on the Top 45—for his reticent, Marxist-tinged Gospel According to Saint Matthew (1964), in which he cast his own mother as the Virgin Mary. The exoneration was short-lived: His Canterbury Tales (1971) and Salò (1975) were both deemed obscene by Italian courts.
It’s a sin: Jarman’s absence from the centenary lineup is regrettable, since his wicked delectation in lurid Catholic imagery rivals Buñuel’s in intensity—from the beefcake martyrdoms of Sebastiane (1976) to the iconic tableaux of Caravaggio (1986). And besides, the guy’s a saint—canonized in London in 1991 by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as Derek of Dungeness of the Order of Celluloid Knights.
Return to “Mass Hysteria: Two New Inflammatory Films Get the Catholic Church Hot and Bothered” by Jessica Winter.