Today the Holy Friday is celebrated in major Christian countries around the world – a day which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the divine mercy and the redemption of all people. In some countries like Brazil, for example, it’s very common to have big performances of the crucifixion, which in my view is somewhat bizarre. With that in mind, I’ve started thinking about the horrible things that have been made in name of the Christian church and ended up with a list of five great anti-religious films about the orthodox church. The main theme of these titles are not to criticize church itself, but to raise questions about faith and some brutalities that have been made because of it.
The Nun (1966) by Jacques Rivette
Based on the book of the same name by Denis Diderot, The Nun tells the story of Suzanne Simonin, a young girl who is forced to become a nun against her will. The story is set in 18th Century France, a period when it was very common for families to send their daughters to convents because of financial or social problems. Once inside the convent, Suzanne refuses to take the vows of the religious community and is forced to submit herself through episodes of humiliations, harassment, and abuse. Jacques Rivette creates a very raw vision towards the matter with one of the most incredible performances by Anna Karina.
Beyond the Hills (2012) by Christian Mungiu
This beautiful slow-paced film set in Romania tells the story of two orphaned young women who meet each other after years of separation. Alina had been working in Germany and visits Voichita, who is now living in a convent in the countryside. Once they meet again, Alina starts realizing that Voichita is not the same person she used to be, now being extremely devoted to religion and refuses to have physical relations with her as they did in the past. With that, Alina tries to show how Voichita has been manipulated, but the more she tries to get closer to her friend, the more suspicious the girls in the covenant become, making them think that Alina is possessed by the devil. The most interesting part of the film, however, is that Christian Mungiu leaves two possible interpretations of what happens inside the covenant, creating an extremely realistic tale about faith, ignorance, and murder.
The Seventh Seal (1957) by Ingmar Bergman
Ingmar Bergman had always stated that he didn’t believe in God, which is a subject that he had always explored on his films. The Seventh Seal is not only one of his many titles that portray the loss of a man’s faith but is also considered one of his greatest films. The film follows the story of a Swedish knight who has just returned home from the Crusades to find his country dying from the Plague. The knight, who has just fought in a war to spread God’s religion can’t understand how He could let something like that happen, and start questioning his faith – which is the exact moment where Death itself appears to take him. Not being ready to depart, the knight challenges Death to a chess match.
Valley of the Bees (1967) by František Vláčil
František Vláčil is a Czech film director whose importance can be compared to Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky. Also making films about religion and the middle ages, Valley of the Bees is one of his masterpieces about a Lord who sends his son Ondřej, to the Teutonic Order (a Catholic religious military order). When Ondřej is old, he escapes the Order and is tracked down by one of his best friends, Armin, who plans to bring him back. This chase ends up testing their friendship and raises questions about how far will a man go to keep someone faithful to God, no matter at what cost.
First Reformed (2017) by Paul Schrader
Being one of the most talked about movies of 2018, First Reformed is a very interesting movie about a priest who starts losing his faith in God and humanity after a conversation with an unstable environmental activist who wants her wife to get an abortion because he doesn’t want his child to live in a world that is condemned by climate change. This priest, who is played by a great performance by Ethan Hawke, has his own demons himself and the more he starts to make sense out of things, the more he faces the absurdity of chaos and darkness surrounding him. A very powerful film which many cross-references with Bergman’s Winter’s Light and Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest.