Friday, March 25, 2011

2000s: Deliver Us From Evil

Deliver Us From Evil by Amy Berg, 2006

With no real resolution, the case presented by Amy Berg in 2006's Deliver Us From Evil is one of the most difficult in recent times: the accusations of abuse by Catholic priests of children. Now I cannot act as an expert on this field, so I will try to keep discussion to the film at hand. As a sidenote, I will be viewing and discussing films, even if they are a few years old and do not seem relevant to today, as I am only coming to view them now.

The documentary Deliver Us From Evil primarily focuses on Father Oliver O'Grady who moved from Ireland to California in the 1970s to be the head of a parish in a small town. After accusations of abuse by parishioners, O'Grady was moved by heads of the church to various other towns in close proximity. Abuse in each location is eventually brought forth yet systematically covered up by higher powers. The film contains many instances in the trial of O'Grady and several abuse victims and their families speak of the horrible natures of their ordeals. We learn that the Catholic church itself continuously does its best to deny any knowledge of wrongdoings, particularly with O'Grady's case.

The film itself is impressive in its access to O'Grady himself. He talks freely with the filmmaker about his urges and his ideas on what should and should not have happened. At one point I found myself oddly respecting him because he was able to talk so openly about his feelings and the events that occurred. This respect changed by the end, when a glimmer in O'Grady's eyes showed something very disconnected with his past actions. A smile here and a wink there left me bewildered and disturbed. Berg's choice of interviewees is also to be commended as experts on the Catholic faith and officials of the law give very interesting commentaries on the nature of the church's actions and the possible reasoning behind so many priests' unlawful actions.

It's hard to argue about Deliver Us From Evil on an artistic level. The film is a talking-heads expose on the church and its crimes and its interviews are surprising and heart-wrenching. One may find it difficult to say certain artistic choices failed when the subject matter is really what is most important, yet I found the editing lacked a certain build-up. The story at times seemed a bit all over the place and I found it a bit difficult to understand the chronological order of events. The music choices also felt sometimes odd – as in when the abuse victims visit the Vatican, a Celtic-style soundtrack is used that hearkened too much towards O'Grady's cultural background and almost felt like an unneeded Irish celebration. I am sure this was unintended, but that was the vibe I felt.

Deliver Us From Evil is a film that really should be seen. It angers one to see how so much is being covered up by an institution that is to be revered for its morals. The director should be acknowledged greatly for her unearthing of facts and testimonies to tell a shocking tale of incredible deceit.

3 1/2 out of 5

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Arbor

The Arbor by Clio Barnard, 2010

At a very young age, Andrea Dunbar became a local sensation in her Yorkshire town. Having written a play called The Arbor, Andrea found her work commissioned for a theatre in London. She had a simple reason for its title: this is where the events in the play take place. This is where all of these events really happened.

Clio Barnard’s new film, also titled The Arbor, is a unique venture into filmmaking. What could be called a fiction/narrative-styled documentary, the film uses actors to lip sync to audio interviews Barnard recorded with her subjects – mainly Andrea Dunbar’s relatives and acquaintances. The style is often immediate and unsettling: you know the actors are not saying the words, but their interpretation of the subjects’ responses and gestures, along with their gazes aimed directly at the camera give the film a haunting importance. Although one may argue that the subjects themselves could have easily been filmed and presented in real form, I found the technique a mesmerizing and worthy choice.

Dunbar’s story is a tragic and often difficult one to hear. Her plays tell of struggles with pregnancy, racism and violence (scenes from the play The Arbor are performed throughout the film in the Brafferton Arbor where Dunbar grew up, with residents surrounding the actors as a real audience) and the interviews with Dunbar’s relatives and acquaintances speak of a harsh family life and subsequent hardships experienced after Andrea’s early death. The interviewees’ heavy accents are almost indecipherable at times, but the story is compelling and heartbreaking, and the performances are really top-notch. During a post-screening Q & A, an audience member asked if English subtitles were considered. Barnard’s answer was that reading words at the bottom of the screen would have viewers missing the actors’ subtle facial movements and expressions. And with a film as uniquely styled as The Arbor, one really does not want to miss anything.

4 1/2 out of 5