Weekly Video Picks

The Son [Le Fils] (2002)

Actions, not words or feelings, are at the center of The Son, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne ' s challenging, nearly religious parable of h u m a n i t y, fallenness and grace.

The Dardenne brothers allow Olivier (Olivier Gourmet), a tightly wound, middle-aged carpenter who works at a youth center, to define himself through actions. Olivier's inner life, his motives and emotions, aren't revealed to us, and he doesn't seem preoccupied with them himself. But a crisis arises when a boy arrives at the center to whom he has a secret connection, and circumstances cause Olivier to take stock of his life and what he has lost. And he makes a radical choice: He will teach this boy carpentry.

Why? Why does he do it, and what does it matter? With documentary-like restraint and immediacy, the Dardenne brothers explore but don't explain: What matters is what he does and what happens. The Dardennes aren't interested in crafting an entertaining film, but what they present is far more valuable.

Content advisory: A few objectionable phrases; references to remarriage after divorce and extramarital pregnancy. In French with subtitles.

Dersu Uzala (1975)

Vladimir Arseniev was an early 20th-century explorer who mapped much of the krai territory of the Russian Far East and studied its indigenous peoples. Based on his journals, Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala tells the story of an unusual friendship between Arseniev and the nomadic tribal hunter for whom the film is named. Dersu's unsophisticated manner and outlook make him an object of fun from Arseniev's men, but his endless resourcefulness and rough-hewn wisdom eventually win the civilized men's respect.

To modern audiences, Dersu seems part Yoda, part Davy Crockett, with his blend of pre-Christian spirituality and shrewd woodcraft. To Arseniev, he embodies something civilized men have lost, something that can no longer survive in the world Arseniev is helping to build. Neither man really understands the other — which is precisely what makes their friendship so special.

One of the 15 films on the Vatican film list in the Values category.

Content advisory: Animist-type modes of expression. In Russian with subtitles.

Citizen Kane (1941)

What can there possibly be to say about Citizen Kane that hasn't already been said? Regularly voted the greatest film ever made, its very title has become a superlative — ”the Citizen Kane of its genre” is about as lavish an expression of praise as any film might hope to achieve. But Orson Welles's legendary masterpiece isn't “the Citizen Kaneof any particular subset of cinema (fictional biopics, say, or proto-noir). It's just Citizen Kane.

What makes Kane worthy of such acclaim? There's no simple answer, for the film's greatness is not simple but multifaceted. Some films are honored for one overriding reason — some special achievement in cinematic technique, memorable character drama or great performances, some profound theme. Kane has all this and more. With its circular narrative, cinematic use of deep focus and deep shadows, and its inventive camerawork, Kane is bravura, sophisticated moviemaking that asks anew the 2,000-year-old question, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”

One of the 15 films on the Vatican film list in the Art category.

Content advisory: Implied adultery; divorce and remarriage.

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy