Monday, September 25, 2023

Haunts of the Past on The Cinema Scribe

Tune in for the latest Cinema Scribe segment on Bring Me 2 Life Radio, beginning Tuesday September 26, available by clicking here. You can also catch it later on demand on Spreaker, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Podchaser, Audible, Deezer, Podcast Addict and Jiosaavn.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Our Father, the Devil," "Concerned Citizen" and "On the Bridge" are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Media Network, available by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Overcoming Prejudice on The Cinema Scribe

Tune in for the latest Cinema Scribe segment on Bring Me 2 Life Radio, beginning Tuesday September 12, available by clicking here. You can also catch it later on demand on Spreaker, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Podchaser, Audible, Deezer, Podcast Addict and Jiosaavn.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

‘Concerned Citizen’ urges us to seriously consider our social values

“Concerned Citizen” (“Ezrah Mudag”) (2022 production, 2023 release). Cast: Shlomi Bertonov, Ariel Wolf, Lena Fraifeld, Uriah Jablonowsky, Yshelu Gebremkiel, Ilan Hazan, Flora Bloch, Idan Hubel, Or Butbel, Yaeli Rozenblit, Aram Rabinovitch, Shahaf Ifhar, Meni Rapoprt, Ofer Amram. Director: Idan Haguel. Screenplay: Idan Haguel. Web site. Trailer.

Do we always believe what we think we believe? That’s a good question, especially when we consider all of the implications involved. It certainly affects who we are, how we see ourselves and how we live our lives. But the ramifications carry wider considerations, too, such as our social values and how authentically we live up to them. Indeed, do we always practice what we preach? Or do we sometimes unconsciously slip into attitudes and outlooks that not only contradict our supposed views, but that may also shock others – and ourselves – with their mere utterances? That can be quite a startling experience, as illustrated in the new Israeli satire, “Concerned Citizen” (“Ezrah Mudag”).

For Ben (Shlomi Bertonov) and Raz (Ariel Wolf), a happily partnered, upwardly mobile Israeli gay couple, life seems pretty good. They live in a smartly appointed, perfectly coordinated, neatly organized apartment on the south side of Tel Aviv, a unit they picked up at a good price given that the neighborhood is in the process of transitioning from a rundown relic to a gentrified enclave. Granted this transformation is in its early stages, still troubled by its share of crime, bad influences and unruly locals. But Ben and Raz know they’ll eventually turn a tidy profit from their investment as the neighborhood is “discovered” and property values rise, an aspiration for which they’re not the least bit embarrassed or ashamed. In the meantime, they take tremendous self-satisfied pride in being good, civically minded residents, especially when it comes to being part of helping to upgrade a multicultural community made up of occupants from an array of ethnic and economic backgrounds. They also believe that this diverse demographic makeup will have a positive impact on the child they’re about to have with the aid of a surrogate, exposing their young one to a range of influences and helping to build tolerance and acceptance at an early, impressionable age.

There’s just one problem with this supposedly progressive attitude: It’s unclear how much the couple truly believes in what they’re saying or whether it’s just politically correct lip service. For starters, while Ben and Raz anticipate rising property values as the neighborhood transitions, just how much of the multicultural diversity that they so proudly brag about will be maintained in light of such a fundamental change? How realistic is it to believe that the low-income immigrant residents from places like Eritrea will continue to be able to afford living there? And what will happen to those supposedly good influences that they hope will rub off on their child?

But this issue doesn’t stop there, especially where Ben is concerned. He incessantly boasts about the many expressions of his modern, broadminded outlook, right down to the fact that he’s proudly serving as the sperm donor for the impending conception of the couple’s child. He further demonstrates his supposedly selfless civic mindedness by planting a young tree in a bare patch of soil adjacent to the streetscape outside his apartment building. He again takes great pride for his contribution, doing his part to make the neighborhood a more aesthetically pleasing place.

Israeli gay couple Raz (Ariel Wolf, left) and Ben (Shlomi Bertonov, right) live what seems like a pleasant life in a gentrifying neighborhood of Tel Aviv, but is it everything they hoped for? That’s a question addressed in the biting new satire about White privilege, “Concerned Citizen” (“Ezrah Mudag”), available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures.

However, Ben’s spirit of good citizenship gets carried a little too far when he starts obsessing over his altruistic addition to the public landscape. So, one evening, while in his apartment, he witnesses a pair of local African teens leaning against his fragile sapling, prodding him to go outside and have a talk with them about their wholly inconsiderate behavior. Their somewhat indifferent response, in turn, prompts him to return inside and call authorities about the incident. And, before long, from the comfort of his residence, Ben watches in shock as a pair of cops comes along, brutally beating one of the alleged perpetrators for a crime of unmitigated, first degree leaning.

Ben is devastated by what he witnesses, but he’s not sure how to respond. The actions of the police go too far in his view, but what is he to do? He’s suddenly torn about his own supposedly liberal views. Has he been walking his talk all along, or has he been engaging in the aforementioned lip service? Do his actions at protecting his precious little tree represent a form of inherent White privilege that he hasn’t recognized or wanted to own up to about himself? And is he now feeling guilt and remorse in response to what happened when he acted upon feelings that he thought he didn’t possess?

Ben consequently experiences an existential crisis that expresses itself in myriad forms. He’s forced into asking himself some difficult questions, facing some troubling truths and examining some hard choices. For instance, in light of the police brutality, can he bring himself to notify officials responsible for investigating such incidents? But, if that were the case, wouldn’t that mean he’d have to admit calling authorities in advance of the attack, something that he as a supposed progressive would like to keep under wraps?

Then there’s the need to examine his reaction (or overreaction) to the teens’ behavior when they were leaning on his tree. Was it really such a bad thing? And is it symptomatic of another dirty little secret he’d like to keep buried – that he’s bought into his sense of White privilege more than he’d actually like to admit? After all, there are a number of scenes in the film where he’s seen speaking with neighbors and friends (Lena Fraifeld, Uriah Jablonowsky, Idan Hubel) about some of the “distasteful” and “troubling” activities going on in the neighborhood, such as crime, homelessness and the careless depositing of undisposed human excrement on the floor of his building’s lobby. He wonders whether he’ll be able to put up with such behavior for the long term, especially once he’s ready to start raising a child there (the alleged benefits of multicultural diversity notwithstanding). It’s a realization that even prompts him to consult a real estate agent (Or Butbul) about selling his apartment – without telling Raz.

Needless to say, such developments start putting a strain on Ben’s relationship, but answers continue to elude him, even in sessions with his therapist (Ilan Hazan). But, such indecisiveness aside, Ben feels he has to do something, like look for ways to practice what he’s been preaching all along. That thinking surfaces, for example, when visiting the gym one day, where he verbally (and nearly physically) takes on an arrogant, prejudiced bigot (Aram Rabinovitch) who repeatedly berates an African locker room attendant with unrelenting racial slurs. But do such chivalrous acts genuinely make up for what happened, what Ben didn’t do and who he really is?

A desire for creating surroundings that are nice, tidy and pleasant is certainly laudable, but what if that drive for pristine perfection goes south, with the emergence of unexpected circumstances and consequences that seriously undercut such intentions? This examination of gentrification and what’s really behind it certainly opens the eyes of both characters and viewers alike. The picture doesn’t intrinsically judge the practice of neighborhood transition, but it certainly forces us to look at the effects of it and the causes that brought them on in the first place. And, because of that, we might come away from it not liking what we see. It’s something to think about the next time a real estate deal one can’t refuse comes along.

When neighborhood teens threaten the well-being of a sapling planted by civically minded resident Ben (Shlomi Bertonov, right), the incident sets off a firestorm and existential crisis for all concerned, as seen in writer-director Idan Haguel’s latest, “Concerned Citizen” (“Ezrah Mudag”), available for streaming online. Photo © Idan Haguel, © Guy Sahaf, courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment.

Ben’s situation presents an intriguing case study about what we genuinely believe. Our beliefs are powerful and persistent forces that can yield formidable outcomes. But they can also lead us down some dubious rabbit holes; their power and persistence can be so strong that they might thoroughly convince us that we actually believe what we think we believe but that, in fact, we don’t. To many of us, that might sound like a contradiction in terms – how can we believe in what we don’t believe? But the reality in a case like this is that we sincerely hold a false belief to be true, ignoring our awareness to the contrary (denial being more than a river in Egypt). Ben genuinely believes that he’s a liberal, selfless, progressively minded soul when, in actuality, he adheres to prejudices and conservative tendencies that he’d rather not recognize in himself. When confronted with that realization, he’d likely deny it, appalled with himself over such intrinsically flagrant hypocrisy, shocked and angered that he’d even consider holding such a belief. And, to make matters worse, there’s the “what would other people think” consideration that would no doubt weigh heavily on his head, particularly in his relations with his supposed kindreds and as a member of the presumably enlightened LGBTQ+ community.

So how does such a conundrum arise? It’s a product of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains our thoughts, beliefs and intents shape the reality we experience, for better or worse. No one can say for certain how many of us are aware of or buy into such thinking, but, when we look at what emerges out of our consciousness and into physical existence, it’s difficult to deny a connection between the two.

It might seem a little strange that Ben secretly believes in things that he might otherwise readily deny, yet, as his experience illustrates, that’s clearly the case, whether or not he’s willing to admit it. But, if that’s indeed true, where did this enigmatic puzzle come from in the first place?

There could be several answers for this. For instance, Ben’s unacknowledged prejudices could well have developed in his youth, swayed by the thinking of those around him, such as older relatives or authority figures, ideas that he quietly but nevertheless subsequently embraced as his own. In doing so, he merely adopted them without thinking or questioning their appropriateness, tucking them away into his subconscious. Some might even say that these beliefs are part and parcel of White privilege, a likely product of his ethnic and socioeconomic upbringing. Granted, as he got older and learned about other perspectives, he may have gone along with those new notions but without having erased the old tapes in his mind when doing so. As a result, those old beliefs continued to hang around, not disappearing into oblivion and despite not having been tapped into for quite some time. But, as noted before, beliefs can be powerful and persistent forces, remaining quietly in place, even when we’ve thought they were gone.

Likewise, peer pressure to embrace new beliefs later in life may truly seem to have been strong enough to override whatever outmoded notions may have long been present, but that doesn’t guarantee such group think is sufficient to accomplish this. And that, in turn, is what accounts for the conundrum of seemingly disbelieving the old beliefs while still holding on to them. In this context, the new beliefs could be seen as something to pave over the old ones. But, no matter how much new metaphysical asphalt is applied, the underlying roadbed is still in place. Ben may freely agree outwardly with his open-minded peers, but deep down does he really believe what he’s saying? In a sense, this could be comparable to saying how much he, too, admires the emperor’s new outfit.

When a seemingly minor incident gets blown out of proportion, Tel Aviv resident Ben (Shlomi Bertonov) gets thrown into a crisis that prompts him to question himself and his values, as seen in writer-director Idan Haguel’s latest offering, “Concerned Citizen” (“Ezrah Mudag”), available for streaming online. Photo © Idan Haguel, © Guy Sahaf, courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment.

So how does one escape a situation like this? As far as Ben is concerned, he needs to be shocked into the realization of what his beliefs really are, particularly the inherent contradiction in what he claims to believe and what he actually does believe. And that often calls for the manifestation of some kind of eye-opening experience – in this case, the incident of police brutality and the role he played in bringing it about. Would Ben willingly seek to manifest something like that? Probably not. But might he unwittingly do so to expose the belief conflict residing in his consciousness, particularly in light of the many impending ramifications upcoming in his life? That, it seems, might be plausible.

If we genuinely wish to invoke meaningful, heartfelt change in our lives, sometimes we have to stir things up in our consciousness. That means undergoing experiences in which we seek to shake ourselves out of our own complacency, especially when it comes to our beliefs, given the central role they play in manifesting the reality we experience. And an incident like the one Ben experiences in which he subjects himself to an existential awakening is a good example of what this is all about.

Admittedly, getting used to a new outlook may take some doing. Given the newness of it all, there may be some missteps along the way (like not informing your partner that you’ve taken steps to sell your home to flee your circumstances), and there’s always the possibility of overcompensation (like nearly coming to blows with a bigot over his openly professed racial views). But these gaffes indicate that progress is being made toward rewriting one’s beliefs and letting go of those that no longer work. But, hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Tel Aviv nor one’s consciousness.

The important thing in all this is that at least there’s an attempt to examine what’s in place, what needs to change and the steps we can take to rectify matters. We might not even get things right in the attempt (or in multiple attempts, as anyone who has ever tried to lose weight or quit smoking can attest). However, it’s the effort that counts, and, for all his foibles, Ben appears to be trying his hand at it. Even if he’s not perfect at it, at least give the guy some credit already.

While the story in “Concerned Citizen” is somewhat light on plot, this wry satire nevertheless subtly but effectively addresses issues related to one’s personal character, authenticity and sense of integrity. True, writer-director Idan Haguel’s third feature outing probably could have benefitted from a more developed narrative, but its incisive look at what we say and what we actually do gives even the most self-righteous among us much to ponder, especially when it comes to walking our talk. We can learn a lot from the well-considered reflection this offering inspires, providing us a spot-on look at a question that we should all take seriously from time to time. The film is available for streaming online.

Nobody’s perfect, but those who claim to be should be careful what they say and do, especially when their acts and deeds go against what they profess. The old adage about actions speaking louder than words can seriously come back to haunt them when the two don’t align, as Ben comes to discover for himself in this in-your-face tale of comeuppance. If we’re certain our words and actions back up our beliefs, then we can rest assured we’re standing on solid ground. However, if the foundation beneath us is even the least bit rickety, we could be in for a very hard fall. And that’s something we should all be concerned about.

Copyright © 2023, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

‘On the Bridge’ explores the transition from life to death and beyond

“On the Bridge” (“Sur le Pont”) (2022). Directors: Samuel Guillaume and Frédéric Guillaume. Web site. Trailer.

What happens after we die? Indeed, as we transition from this world to whatever comes next, what can we truly expect? That’s arguably the most profound – and most mysterious – question that we ask ourselves during our lifetimes. And the only definitive way to know for sure is to actually go through the experience. Nevertheless, that’s not to stop us from speculating about what could occur, an undertaking explored with eloquence, grace and beauty as seen in the captivating animated Swiss documentary, “On the Bridge” (“Sur le Pont”).

In 2015-16, directors Samuel and Frédéric Guillaume launched an effort to examine this very question. They interviewed 113 seniors who were nearing the end of their lives, all of them in palliative care or living at home at the time. The filmmakers selected 1,400 extracts from those conversations, totaling 11 hours of material that was eventually edited down to a little over an hour of stunningly gorgeous animation of the interview subjects’ visions about what could lie ahead for them.

In essence, a group of individuals at a remote train station await a mysterious outbound departure to an unknown destination. The station is largely empty, yet the space has a palpable air of anxious foreboding about it. Nevertheless, the passengers all seem quietly reconciled to their circumstances, despite the inherent uncertainty. Before long, they board the outgoing train, each settling into their quarters or in the various common areas. And, as they do so, they begin to express their thoughts and feelings about this experience, recorded observations drawn from the aforementioned interviews. Some try to understand why they’re here; others talk about their hopes, fears and visions, with some sharing memories about their lives. But no one really knows where he or she is headed on this mysterious journey until they reach what appears to be their mutual destination – a suspension bridge over a river, one presumably spanning heaven and earth.

Upon reaching the bridge, however, their goal still remains unclear – what are they supposed to do now that they’ve arrived at this place, especially when the train inexplicably stops halfway across the span? Are they supposed to make their way to the other side? And, if so, what awaits them there? But how are they supposed to accomplish this task when there’s no way to safely exit the train and walk across the tracks? That’s a prospect made even more difficult when the trestles begin to weaken and falter as the bridge starts to collapse, eventually falling into the river below. So what’s next?

A mysterious train pulls out from a remote station toward an unknown destination, as depicted in the animated Swiss documentary, “On the Bridge” (“Sur le Pont”). Image courtesy of cine3d.

As events further unfold, the passengers who started out on this journey together each find themselves in different locales, all of them vibrantly beautiful, even if each is different in character and appearance. But where exactly are they? Is this “heaven”? If so, why aren’t the various venues the same? Could it be that heaven is a relative place? And, if so, how did that happen?

Although the film is built on real testimonies, the project is purely fictional, even if the various impressions depicted here are the products of each individual’s personal conjectures about what awaits them. The filmmakers made it possible for the interview subjects to freely express their feelings (regardless of how truthful, sincere or lucid they were at the time of their conversations) by portraying them here with anonymous animated doubles. And, even though all of the seniors have since passed on, their insights remain in this cinematic record, giving us all food for thought on a question related to the only common fate we all share.

So what accounts for each passenger’s different experience of what happens during this transitionary event? Well, quite simply, it comes down to their individual expectations, and those expectations are driven by what they believe will happen at that time. And that’s important to recognize, given that our beliefs determine what materializes in our existence, a result of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains our reality is a product of those intangible resources. It’s unclear how many of us are aware of this thinking, but, considering how faithfully our experiences appear to parallel those underlying influences, it only stands to reason that there must be some kind of correlation between the two.

Passengers aboard a train to points unknown share their hopes, fears, visions and memories about life and what may lie ahead for them in the animated Swiss documentary, “On the Bridge” (“Sur le Pont”). Image courtesy of cine3d.

If the foregoing is indeed as true as it seems to be, then, doesn’t it seem likely that the same principle that underlie the manifestation of physical reality would also apply to the creation of any form of existence, including one that constitutes the afterlife? After all, if our consciousness is a common element of both forms of reality, then wouldn’t the components that constitute it – our beliefs – be present in both realms as well? And, by extension, wouldn’t their function also be the same in both cases – the materialization of the ensuing reality? And, going one step further, if our individual beliefs each manifest the existence we experience, wouldn’t it make sense that each of those realities would be separate and distinct from one another, tailored to what we believe, whether we’re talking about the earthly or heavenly planes? (Seems like a reasonable enough assumption to me.)

As this film illustrates, that’s what would account for one individual believing that the afterlife is a beautiful seashore with a gorgeous white sand beach, while, for someone else, it’s a stunning mountain peak. Both are conceivable forms of a heavenly existence, even if their appearances differ widely; they just happen to be tailored to accommodate the beliefs, expectations, impressions and desires of those materializing them. In that sense, one could say, “Now that’s heaven!”

Given how the manifestation process works, it’s not surprising that each iteration is separate, distinct and different considering one of the key principles that underlies this philosophy – the idea that everything is in a constant state of becoming. Like the ever-changing patterns that appear in a glass kaleidoscope, the same is true in the creation of the reality we experience, regardless of which plane of existence on which it occurs. That notion would, in turn, seem to verify the widely held contention that variety is indeed the spice of life (or existence), regardless of where it unfolds. This film offers further evidence of that.

Is life a beach in the afterlife? It could be, at least for some of us, as seen in the animated Swiss documentary, “On the Bridge” (“Sur le Pont”). Image courtesy of cine3d.

The picture’s use of the train as an image for illustrating that concept is a perfect metaphor, too. A train travels down a particular set of tracks, an apt symbol of a specific line of probability, just one of an infinite number present in the universal pool of possibilities. As the passengers aboard the train here travel down those tracks, they’re each headed down a particular line of probability, one governed by their respective manifestation beliefs. It’s a perfect way to depict how these events play out, and it’s one that’s been used both visually and verbally in a variety of other narratives, from movies like “Defending Your Life” (1991) and “Stardust Memories” (1980) to television shows like The Golden Girls to the musings of departed loved ones recorded in alleged after-death journals. Indeed, punching our ticket could prove to be a notion that’s almost as literal as it is figurative.

If we understand this process as thoroughly as it’s depicted here, we might assume that such an awareness could help us to be more proficient at putting it to use when the time comes, aiding us in manifesting an afterlife experience that comes closest to achieving what we hope for. That, in essence, could be seen as a way to more effectively live out our destiny. And, in light of that, what better way would there be to make our transition to the next step than that? Talk about traveling in comfort and style!

Even though the filmmakers contend that this production is a purely fictional exercise, it’s fascinating to note how many of its principles are readily reflected in many of the world’s spiritual, religious, philosophical and metaphysical texts. Indeed, if these principles come up as often as they appear to and this film faithfully echoes them, then maybe there’s something to them – and worth listening to. After all, who would want to squander an opportunity like this, especially when it offers us the chance to attain for ourselves exactly what we want? Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

Reaching for the summit is one of many prospective impressions about what awaits us in the afterlife, as seen in the animated Swiss documentary, “On the Bridge” (“Sur le Pont”). Image courtesy of cine3d.

What exactly happens at the end of life? As we transition from this world to whatever comes next, what can we realistically expect? And how long does the process take – if time even means anything at that point? That’s what this insightful and fascinating animated documentary seeks to capture, combining the insights and speculation of individuals at the end of life. Their observations span the spectrum of topics, with moods ranging from ennui to hope to humor as they envision what’s ahead and how it will come into being during their fateful train ride. All of this is presented through stunningly gorgeous animation backed by an ethereal score and, of course, the narrated reflections of the wayfarers making their final pilgrimages. Directors Samuel and Frédéric Guillaume have created a beautifully moving, eminently enlightening work that’s positively striking to look at. This is essential viewing for anyone who wonders what comes at the end of the line and how to properly prepare for it. If you’re not profoundly touched by this offering, I don’t know what will.

Unfortunately, this film is somewhat difficult – though not impossible – to find, having largely played the festival circuit. However, in an effort to make their work more widely available, the filmmakers have augmented the project in book form published by Faim de Siècle editions. Besides providing additional insights on the subject, the printed version provides readers with access to the film and its bonus features via a QR code. Author Josiane Haas and illustrator Frédéric Guillaume give the floor to men and women who rub shoulders with death on a daily basis, including a former cemetery gardener, a housekeeper in palliative care, an embalmer, a theater actor and a funeral photographer. The book is thus a living collection of insights into the subject matter in a way that, ironically, brings it to life in a rich and colorful way. The book is available in bookstores and on the publisher’s website.

The end eventually comes for all of us, at least in our present forms. But that’s not the end of our eternal selves as we move on to new experiences and adventures, nearly all of which we won’t discover until we go through our respective transitions, whatever they may be. The forms those changes take are custom-made according to our beliefs as we cross that bridge that symbolically links us to who we are and what we’re about to become. And, if those transformations are anything like what’s depicted in this film, what an extraordinary time that will be.

Copyright © 2022-2023, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 8, 2023

‘Our Father, the Devil’ asks, ‘When is it too late to do the right thing?’

“Our Father, the Devil” (“Mon père, le diable”) (2021 production, 2023 release). Cast: Babetida Sodjo, Souleymane Sy Savane, Jennifer Tchiakpe, Franck Saurel, Martine Amisse, Maëlle Genet, Hiba el Aflahi, Valentin Fruitier, Maxence David, Patrice Tepasso. Director: Ellie Foumbi. Screenplay: Ellie Foumbi. Web site. Trailer.

It’s truly astounding how mankind is capable of both tremendous greatness and despicable savagery. How can one species lay claim to both? What’s more, how can both traits be found within a single individual? Yet, in a surprisingly large number of instances, that ends up being the case. So how are we supposed to treat someone known for works of beauty and compassion when they engage in pursuits that are of a completely opposing nature? Likewise, what’s to happen to an individual known for hatred and violence who somehow behaves surprisingly to the contrary? If we’re each indeed capable of acts at each end of the spectrum, which ultimately defines our character, and how are we to be regarded as a result? That’s a puzzling question raised in the insightful new dramatic character study, “Our Father, the Devil” (“Mon père, le diable”).

Marie Cisse (Babetida Sodjo) lives what appears to be a happy and contented life these days. The West African transplant works as the head chef at a senior citizens residence in the idyllic mountain community of Luchon in southwestern France. She enjoys her job and the company of her co-workers, most notably her fellow African colleague, Nadia (Jennifer Tchiakpe), with whom she engages in all manner of gal pal activities. And, to top it all off, she’s recently become the recipient of a cozy mountainside cabin with a stunning view, a generous gift from Jeanne (Martine Amisse), one of the facility’s residents and her former culinary mentor, who bequeaths it to Marie as a thank you for all of the good care (and delicious food) that she has given her. All in all, it makes for a truly pleasant existence.

That’s something new for Marie, though, given her deeply troubled past. As a refugee from Guinea, she managed to escape the atrocities and captivity of a ruthless warlord responsible for the brutal murders of entire villages, including those of her own family. She somehow managed to survive those heinous crimes, finally getting away after the monstrous strongman was himself killed. Yet, as much as she’s managed to put that behind her, there are still times when recollections of those painful days unexpectedly surface, prompting her to go into full-blown defensive mode, sometimes even as a result of small and insignificant events that pose no discernable threat other than reviving her memories.

One area in which Marie seems to have more than her share of apprehensions is in her dealings with men, especially when they try to get to know her, no matter how gentlemanly they may be. That’s most noticeable with a flirty but eminently courteous bartender, Arnaud (Franck Saurel), who works at the café where she often spends her free time. She routinely gives him the brush-off, despite his polite persistence and seemingly harmless efforts to befriend her. Marie even grows anxious with Nadia when she nudges her make the effort to go out and meet men. She’s a beautiful, young, available woman, yet she remains resolutely tight-lipped about the reasons behind her reticence.

In all, though, Marie has apparently adapted well considering what she endured. But that all changes one day when she arrives at work and hears a eerily familiar voice in an adjacent room. It strikes an unnerving chord with her, so she stealthily moves toward the source of her uneasiness and finds it in the personage of a newly arrived priest, Father Patrick (Souleymane Sy Savane), who’s understatedly delivering a homily to the residents. But what makes the revelation so chilling is that the cleric appears to be the second coming of Sogo, the guerilla who murdered Marie’s family and took her captive.

When Marie at last meets Father Patrick, she’s convinced that he’s the warlord who committed such terrible acts of barbarism. However, he, in turn, doesn’t appear to recognize her; either his reaction is truly sincere or he’s quite an actor. No matter what the case, though, Marie isn’t buying any of it. She researches the matter further online, reviewing photos that appear to verify her conclusion and prompting her to believe that reports of Sogo’s demise were in error, that he must have somehow faked his own death on his way to being reborn as the fraudulent Father Patrick.

African refugee Marie Cisse (Babetida Sodjo, foreground) is haunted by her past when a brutal warlord who tormented her and her family arrives at her workplace disguised as a priest, Father Patrick (Souleymane Sy Savane, background), in writer-director Ellie Foumbi’s superb debut feature, “Our Father, the Devil” (“Mon père, le diable”), now playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Fandor.

Marie struggles to contain herself at work, but the terror induced by his reappearance frequently causes her to shake uncontrollably. Whenever she is in his presence, she seethes with anger, despite his apparent lack of a response to her mood. It soon becomes obvious that she’s nearing a breaking point. And, when the two of them are alone in the kitchen one evening after dinner, she makes her move – striking him with a pan, knocking him out and taking him back to her cottage as her prisoner.

With her captive bound and tied, Marie confronts him upon regaining consciousness. He insists that he’s not Sogo, that she’s making a terrible mistake. He pleads with her to let him go, but she’ll have none of it, especially when he periodically lapses out of character and lets clues to his true identity slip out. He continues to deny who he is, and, when that doesn’t work, he tries to win over Marie with a combination of tales of his godly self and sob stories about his troubled youth. And, when the going gets especially tough, he seeks to assuage his captor with confessions of his sins and efforts at seeking atonement after having successfully found Jesus.

In the meantime, Marie avails herself of this opportunity to exact retribution. She turns the tables on her onetime tormentor, inflicting upon him the same kinds of torture that she believes he perpetrated against her. In essence, she begins to become everything that he was, something at which she appears to be more adept than one might realistically think she should be. Indeed, exactly how did she become so seemingly uncharacteristically proficient at this sort of behavior? Under conditions like these, in which she insists he’ll burn in hell for what he did, couldn’t the same be said for her as she carries out her acts of apparently well-practiced vengeance?

As time goes by, however, Marie doesn’t appear to have an end game in place for this situation, despite what seem like threats (albeit empty ones) to the contrary. Indeed, how is she to extricate herself from this scenario? The heat soon gets turned up, too, when the local police begin inquiring about Father Patrick’s mysterious disappearance with the staff of the senior center, given that’s where he was last seen. The facility’s manager, Sabine (Maëlle Genet), subsequently instructs all of her employees to fully cooperate with authorities in their investigation, including questioning about what each of them might know. Needless to say, with that, the noose begins to tighten around Marie’s neck, but what is she to do? And, given how everything has unfolded thus far, how will all of this ultimately play out? Even Jesus might have difficulty figuring this one out, but, then, He just might have a role to play in its resolution, too.

In many respects, this scenario would appear to represent a no-win situation for everyone. But need it be? Can an equitable resolution be achieved? If true, though, how does one satisfactorily untangle such highly charged matters, especially given the staggering legal, moral and criminal implications involved? And these considerations apply not only to the evil warlord, but also to his victim and the retributive actions she’s carried out.

Under circumstances like these, many of us might readily say that Marie and Father Patrick/Sogo get whatever they deserve. And, considering what happened, those sentiments arguably have merit. But, at the risk of playing devil’s advocate (pun intended), is that the best response we can come up with? Is an eye for an eye the wisest course? It might make some of us feel as though justice has been done, but couldn’t it also be seen as appeasement for the vengeful? Is that what we really want to come out of this, especially among those of us seeking the creation of a better world or in invoking the name of spiritual teachers like Jesus, whose name is repeated frequently in this story? If that’s the case, then perhaps we need to employ a different, more unconventional approach.

Brutal African warlord Sogo (Souleymane Sy Savane), who now goes under the guise of soft-spoken priest Father Patrick in the French town of Luchon, runs up against his past when he’s reunited with a former victim who escaped his captivity in writer-director Ellie Foumbi’s excellent character study, “Our Father, the Devil” (“Mon père, le diable”), now playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Fandor.

Doing this, however, may also require that we adopt different beliefs, including some that many of us may find hard to swallow. Notions like forgiveness and redemption come to mind, particularly when they’re accompanied by humility and atonement and backed by sincerity. These are ideas that many of us recognize as lofty, noble, praiseworthy concepts, but, in the face of everyday life and the transgressions that can be perpetrated against us, they’re often looked upon as philosophical principles that we don’t have the luxury of indulging in a practical sense. But is that really true? If so, then why have we devised such notions in the first place – as something genuinely attainable or as idealized conceptions that can never be realistically fulfilled?

If the foregoing views have sincerely been conceived of, then there must be some part of us that believes they’re achievable. And that’s important to consider, given that our beliefs play a vital role in the manifestation of our existence, a product of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains these intangible resources are responsible for the materialization of our reality. Granted, the fulfillment of these ideals may not be easy (especially for those who have never heard of or embraced this way of thinking), but the mere fact that they exist within our consciousness suggests that their realization is indeed somehow possible. This is particularly true when we take into account the teachings of spiritual leaders like Jesus and others, who have attempted to enlighten us to the possibility of seeing these notions brought into being despite what the naysayers contend.

To be sure, giving credence to the value of notions like forgiveness, redemption and atonement requires us to stretch the thinking that many of us currently adhere to. Many of us have been long tied to beliefs that assert we should “do to them whatever they do to us.” But isn’t that locking us into a cycle from which escape is exceedingly difficult? Where is the space for personal growth, spiritual evolution and broadened enlightenment in a relentlessly intractable scenario like that? Think of where we’d be if we don’t make allowances for change like that. Is that what we truly want for ourselves down the road? And, if so, why do we even bother trying to improve upon ourselves if we can’t get past self-imposed impediments like this?

It must be noted, however, that situations like this are indeed two-way streets. Forgiveness and redemption of those who have wronged us mean little if there’s no heartfelt sense of atonement on the part of those who have engaged in these grievous acts. It’s hard to absolve evildoers who have no remorse for their misdeeds. But, for those who genuinely do, it’s equally unfair to continue blaming them for what they have sincerely admitted was wrong. If we fail to come through on that front, it amounts to nothing more than a case of “it’s not enough to apologize any more,” and goodness knows we see plenty of that phony self-righteousness going on in society and in the media these days.

Making outcomes like these possible thus requires us to become better at learning how to let go, how to leave behind what no longer serves us, like longstanding grudges. Again, this is something that is far from easy, given that we have long been taught – and have since long come to believe – that this is what we’re supposed to do in situations like this, with more egregious acts being made to bear more severe and more persistent resentment. However, if we’re indeed desirous of moving on to those more perfect worlds we’ve been told so much about, when are we going to make a concerted effort to change our ways to bring about that result? We certainly won’t do so by desperately hanging on with our sharpened claws extended, no matter what sense of satisfaction it might provide us in the short term.

If we continue to assert our aspirations to attain something higher for ourselves and our existence but do nothing in our beliefs, acts or deeds to achieve such an outcome, then we’re merely paying lip service to a hollow concept, no matter how much we might contend to the contrary. In light of that, then, if we sincerely want to see this dream fulfilled, at some point we have to swallow our pride, put our money where our mouth is and step up to make these objectives realized. If we don’t, we’ll never progress, and no amount of protesting that the devil made us do it will ever change things.

They say it’s never too late to do the right thing. But how far does that extend? Does it include atoning for the commission of heinous crimes? Or must one be perpetually forced to pay for those transgressions, even with the admission of heartfelt regret? Those are the heady questions raised in writer-director Ellie Foumbi’s brilliant debut feature, a gripping tale that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats. The picture’s mutilayered narrative keeps viewers (and characters) guessing, almost as if both are being toyed with by the filmmaker, but this is carried out so skillfully that one can’t help but remain riveted. The story is effectively fleshed out by the film’s superb ensemble cast (especially the two leads), backed by inventive cinematography, exceedingly clever film editing, a fine background score, an array of subtly symbolic touches and a surprising amount of strategically placed, well-executed comic relief. Admittedly, there are some modest pacing issues in the middle, but they’re usually employed to set up one of the picture’s many smartly developed plot twists. This 2022-23 Independent Spirit Award nominee for best feature, as well as the recipient of many film festival award wins and nominations, is a well-kept cinematic secret that genuinely deserves wider attention, both as a thoughtful meditation and as an engaging drama. And, by all means, do not let the title scare you off! This is not a horror film per se, even though it deals with subjects that are in themselves horrific. “Our Father, the Devil” is an important, insightful offering not to be missed. The picture has primarily been playing the film festival circuit and is currently in limited theatrical release, but it’s well worth the effort to find it.

None of us is inherently all good or all bad. We may gravitate more toward the one than the other, but to label us as the embodiment of either attribute is grossly simplistic and patently unfair. Along our respective life paths, we each produce stupendous accomplishments and stunningly questionable, sometimes-egregiously appalling missteps. But are we always all of the one and none of the other? That seems like quite an overstatement in both directions. To that end, then, we need to be recognized – and treated – for who truly are: some of both. We should hope that we learn just as much about ourselves and the human condition from our errors as we do from our triumphs. And, if we absorb anything at all about any of that, we should hope that we grant others the same grace that they would bestow upon us under comparable circumstances. After all, in the end, it really never is too late to do the right thing, both for us and for others in our world.

Copyright © 2023, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.