Saturday, February 26, 2011

Karol Wojtyla, aka Pope John Paul II

Friday night is movie night around Nohouse.  Noman's recent retreat so brought to mind the oft-mentioned John Paul the Great, that he's tempted to pull out his favorite movie, bar none, about the humble titan-- Karol: A Man Who Became Pope (2005).  The movie captures the sheer miraculousness of the event: a non-Italian, and Pole (!), becoming Pope of the Roman Catholic Church in her dark hour of insecurity.  The movie ends with John Paul's introduction to the roaring throngs huddled in St. Peter's Square awaiting news of the conclave, and begins with the Nazi invasion of his beloved Poland during his university days at Lublin.  The three hours in between paint a completely believable portrait of a man learning to hope, love and keep striving in some of the most oppressive and hateful conditions in human history.  The Nazis take their turn in the first half; the Communists in the second.  For Noman, the movie credibly depicts how the man who emerged as the world's fearless champion of truth, who counseled the faithful to set out into the deep, who (also like the Master) instructed believers to be not afraid, became the witness to hope he was.

The movie was filmed using two companies, one Polish, the other Italian.  This really worked for Noman, by giving the movie an authentic, ethnic feel though it's filmed in English.  The only actor familiar to Noman was the one who played Pontius Pilate in "The Passion of the Christ."  Noman applauded him in that movie, and applauds him in this one.  He plays an extraordinarily persuasive bad guy, sort of like a theologically complex Edward Arnold (Frank Capra's villain in "Meet John Doe," Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and "You Can't Take It With You").  The performances are superb without exception, none more so than Adam's--a Soviet spy planted to tape Wojtyla's lectures, and confessions.  His is a powerful conversion story--similar to Robert DeNiro's character in the first half of "The Mission"--about the triumph of Christian love over secular hatreds. Special mention must be made of the actor who played Karol.  Never was Noman in doubt that this man on the screen was the one he'd seen on the world stage for decades.  Of the Pope's many traits, the ones best captured were his warmth, and gift for reaching out to people to draw them close to the Lord.  Noman goes so far as to thank the actor who played a decent German guard, willing to give his life to reclaim his soul: his performance stripped Noman's conscience bare.

Noman is a sucker for stories featuring heroism, triumph against impossible odds, and the supernaturalization of human suffering.  He first saw this movie at the home of a Belgian nofriend, and spent the better part of three hours blubbering.  He's seen it since, to similar affect.  Noman says there's nothing like a good metanoia, and a joy to encounter art capable of provoking it.

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