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BY Steven D. GreydanusRegister Film Critic
Jacques Maritain: Philosopher, Teacher and Defender of Human Rights (2007) PICK
The Vatican: A Hidden World (2011) PICK
New from Ignatius Press, The Vatican: A Hidden World is a 55-minute documentary offering a unique look at life in Vatican City through the eyes of a number of individuals whose day-to-day lives are taken up in the work and operations of the Holy See and the Vatican city state.
Filmed by a U.K. camera crew to mark Benedict XVI’s 2011 visit to Great Britain, the production spent a year at the Vatican, enjoying rare access to some of its most privileged places, from the Vatican Secret Archives, where the records of Galileo’s trials are kept, to the excavation under St. Peter’s Basilica, where the bones of St. Peter were unearthed.
Pope Benedict remains a distant figure, yet he is a palpable presence in the lives and hearts of a number of individuals featured in the documentary, from the papal photographer to the Pope’s bodyguard. Then there’s a wide-eyed young Vatican altar boy who longs to serve at a papal Mass and imagines the Pope to be “the kindest person in the world.” (The look on his face when he finally meets Benedict is priceless.)
One of my favorite interviews is with Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory, a former visiting scientist at NASA and former professor at MIT and Harvard. Money quote: “People who think there’s a conflict between science and religion generally don’t know what science is, or they don’t know what religion is, or both.”
Also new from Ignatius Press, Jacques Maritain: Philosopher, Teacher and Defender of Human Rights is an engaging 53-minute introduction to one of the key figures in 20th-century Catholic thought.
It’s as much a love story as a biographical documentary, a portrait of the intense, lifelong mutual devotion of Jacques and his wife, Raïssa — a total partnership that was intellectual and creative as well as loving and domestic.
Their story begins with an alarming commitment: As young unbelievers studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, they made a pact to search together for the meaning of life — and, if unsuccessful, to commit suicide together. Through a number of influences, they were ultimately received into the Church.
This documentary follows Maritain to America during WWII — where he came to persuade Americans of the seriousness of the Nazi threat and wound up exiled — and later to the Vatican as the ambassador of de Gaulle’s France, leading to Maritain’s personal friendship with Pope Paul VI.
Better than this, though, are the glimpses into Jacques and Raïssa’s remarkable love, from the love letters he wrote in advance and had posted by proxy while he was traversing the Atlantic to the “diary” of her writings that he edited after she died.
Content Advisory: The Vatican: A Hidden World: Fleeting excerpts from journalistic references to the abuse scandals and related material; incomplete discussion of the Galileo trial requiring additional context. Jacques Maritain: Reference to a suicide pact. Mostly French, with subtitles. Both teens and up.