Weekly VideoDVD Picks

Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (1999)

Based on Hilde Eynikel's biography of Blessed Damien de Veuster, Molokai tells the edifying, at times wrenching story of the 19th-century “Apostle to the Lepers,” who for 15 years lived and finally died in a leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i.

The edifying, episodic biopic depicts Father Damien (David Wenham, Faramir in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings) as a man consumed by a singular sense of duty and obligation, lacking any thought but the spiritual and temporal good of those in his care and the good of his own soul.

To Church and state leaders in O'ahu he ceaselessly campaigns for more funds and medicine, nuns to help with the care of the sick, and his own desire for confession. To his charges he is uncompromising about proclaiming to them their spiritual needs as well as attending their physical needs.

Apart from two brief, inexplicable scenes — involving a bizarre reference to Hawaii's “old gods” and a presumably invalid wedding Damien initially refuses to permit — Molokai offers an inspiring, challenging depiction of Christian service, charity and sanctity. It's worthwhile viewing, especially for All Saints Day.

Content advisory: Images of disfigurement and death; a brief, shadowy depiction of a small-scale massacre; minor profanity; a restrained depiction of resistance to sexual temptation; a reference to impure thoughts and actions; two strange, brief scenes involving seemingly out-of-character, impious behavior and comments from Damien.

Maximillian: Saint of Auschwitz (1995)

In 1994 my wife and I attended a performance by Catholic dramatist Leonardo Defilippis (director of next year's film Thérése) of his one-man play on St. Maximillian Kolbe, the Polish martyr-priest of Auschwitz and founder of the Immaculata Movement. As recent converts from Protestantism, we were much struck by Kolbe's profoundly Marian spirituality as evoked by Defilippis's powerful, prayerful performance.

This video adaptation from Defilippis's St. Luke Productions and Ignatius Press captures the impressionistic, meditative quality of Defilippis's one-man show. Flexing his Shakespearean talent and versatility, Defilippis plays a number of roles besides Kolbe, including a Franciscan carpenter reminiscing about Kolbe, a number of Nazis, and even Satan himself offering a twisted commentary on Kolbe's life.

With effective sets and costumes, lighting and sound effects, and some scenes edited to allow Defilippis to appear to interact with himself, the production approaches full-dress drama while retaining the intimacy and stylized quality of a one-man play. From the visitation of our Lady to Maximillian in his youth to the fateful moment when he stepped forward in Auschwitz to take a condemned prisoner's place, Defilippis challenges viewers to contemplate the link between Kolbe's boundless Marian devotion and the extraordinary fullness of grace in his own life.

Order from www.stlukeproduc-tions.com (800-683-2998) or www.ignatius.com (800-651-1531).

Content advisory: Brief, stylized evocations of beatings and martyrdom; imaginative depiction of Satan and hell.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

A Vatican film-list honoree in the category “Religion,” The passion of joan of Arc available in magnificently restored it DVD and VHS versions from Home Vision.

To witness Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc is to glimpse the soul of a saint in her hour of trial. More than a dramatization, more than a biopic, more than a documentary, it is a true spiritual portrait of a Christ-like soul sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Watching it is an experience analogous to praying the Stations of the Cross or the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. Constant extreme close-ups create a fearful intimacy and counterintuitive editing, like reverse perspective in iconography, challenges the viewer to watch this film differently from other films.

Maria Falconetti's transcendent performance has been called the greatest ever filmed; crushing exhaustion, visionary ecstasy, peasant cunning, and open terror wash with heartbreaking authenticity over her features.

The dialogue, though adapted from the historical records, is not always theologically transparent. It may sometimes leave viewers confused, though it seldom seems to matter. Before our eyes, Joan again stands accused, the badgering and harassing voices of her ecclesiastical tormentors are again heard, and Joan's long silences and simple answers continue to frustrate and confound.

Content advisory: Intense, prolonged distress and anguish; threat of torture; scenes of rioting and violence; execution by burning at the stake.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.