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Something to See
This year at Cannes something really unusual happened. No, it was not festival directors booting a vaunted guest, Danish writer-director Lars von Trier, for his supposedly anti-Semitic comments during his press conference (though they kept his film). And it was not the celebrity glam mass of male star power—Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and Sean Penn (who starred in two films)—all together in one place. Nor was it the coming of much anticipated films, rumored to be deeply personal, specifically von Trier's Melancholia after his hotly controversial Antichrist (2009), or the premiere, at last, of American writer-director Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, a film that was three years in post-production and rumor had showing at Cannes last year. Nor, finally, the very real possibility that either or both of those films, or a couple of others, given the track record of their directors, could immediately leap to classichood (lots try, but in the elusive alchemy of filmmaking, hardly any succeed).
No. Though the last prospects proved true enough, the big surprise lay in the fact that the festival's very best films, small and large alike, came from filmmakers who drew their substance and fire and even their style from matters deeply religious. This seems really odd, given that presently much of the Western world, and especially its literati, including the mass of filmmakers and critics, dwells happily in a glib secularism that a priori scorns all things in the least religious. And now, to just about everyone's gaping surprise, comes a chorus of superb films that query those purblind exclusions. These films were not in the least soppy, didactic, or simplistic—the aesthetic and religious crimes that befall much of what passes for "religious" film. Rather, an array of filmmakers from all over the globe worked their medium in quite breathtaking ways as they wrestled in pure, lucid, and merciful resolve with multiple forms of human brokenness—all those brutalities ...