National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks & Passes

BY Steven D. Greydanus

May 20-26, 2007 Issue | Posted 5/15/07 at 10:00 AM


Saint Rita(2004)- PICK

Apocalypto(2006)- PASS

Letters from Iwo jima(2006)-  PICK

This Tuesday, May 23, is the feast day of Rita of Cascia, patroness of the impossible (and of Jim Morris’s pitching career in the 2002 film The Rookie). New on DVD from Ignatius Press, Saint Rita, a TV production from the Italian company Lux Vide, is the latest in Ignatius’ series of high-quality Italian imports.

At four hours, Saint Rita expands the relatively sparse historical information about the 14th-century Italian wife, mother, religious, peacemaker, mystic and stigmatist into a drama of intrigue, violence, conversion and divine intervention. The filmmakers take license with the few known facts about St. Rita’s life, most notably regarding her submission to an arranged marriage against her own wish to enter the convent. Yet despite a questionable choice or two, Saint Rita makes engaging, edifying viewing, with a crisp screenplay, solid performances, admirable production values and a strongly moral tale of Godfather-like intrigue.

Included with the DVD is a 16-page booklet providing biographical notes about St. Rita, background on historical situations in the film, and a commentary with discussion questions that would make an excellent resource for Catholics watching the film in family or group settings. (Note: The DVD defaults to English dubbing, but the movie is better with language options set to Italian with English subtitles.)

New this week on DVD, Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto is a brutal action movie with unusually exotic production values. Set in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and told entirely in subtitled Yucatek Maya, the film depicts the murderous conquest of peaceful jungle villagers by cruel Mayan warriors, some to be sold as slaves, others destined for a more terrible fate.

Like Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto is steeped in graphic bloodletting, mutilation and gore. Yet the film’s deepest interests are the taproots of male identity: protecting and providing, courage, and above all willingness to suffer. In Gibson’s films, the capacity to embrace and triumph in or through suffering, violence and humiliation — enduring it or potentially inflicting it — is the way of triumph.

Gibson is a consummate filmmaker, and the action is never less than riveting. Yet as Apocalypto ratchets up the wince factor beyond what seems necessary, suffering is reduced to spectacle. Gibson is a bold, powerful artist who is unafraid of challenges. For his next challenge, he might try exercising restraint.

Also new on DVD, Letters From Iwo Jima is the better of Clint Eastwood’s two lopsided Iwo Jima companion films. (The other was Flags of Our Fathers.) This one is a deeply sympathetic but far from uncritical exploration of the Japanese side of the Pacific battle. Letters balances earnest patriotism with blind anti-American prejudice, self-sacrificial valor with misguided suicidal fatalism. Both sides are capable of both noble and ignoble actions.

Content advisory
Saint Rita: Restrained depictions of menace and violence; possible threat of rape. Optional English dubbing or subtitles. Apocalypto: Much extreme graphic violence and gore; disturbing images; ethnographic nudity; frank sexual references and themes; implied rape; coarse and obscene language; grossout humor. Letters From Iwo Jima: Intense, graphic battlefield violence; recurring honor suicides; some objectionable language. Subtitled.