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Posts Tagged ‘Garth Davis’

Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus, Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene

“MARY MAGDALENE” My rating: B (Now on demand)

120 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Less iconoclastic than earnest, “Mary Magdalene” is an art-film Bible movie that more resembles Pasolini’s pared-down “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” than your typical Hollywood sword-and-sandal epic.

It is, in fact, far better than one would expect upon learning that the title character is played by Rooney Mara and that Jesus Christ is portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix.

The screenplay (by Helen Edmunson and Philippa Goslett)) and direction (by Garth Davis of “Lion” fame)  observes Jesus’ ministry through the experiences of Mary Magdalene, who is depicted not as a prostitute (that whole scenario was the invention of a sixth-century pope) but as an ahead-of-her-time woman  as important to the Christian faith as any of the male disciples.

Early on we find Mary serving as a midwife to the women of her village. She’s no shrinking violet; she rejects the attempts of her father (Tcheky Karyo) to find her a husband and outrages the menfolk by praying in the synagogue whenever she feels the need. At one point her family attempts an exorcism to rid her of proto-feminist demons.

So when Jesus and his disciples pass through, Mary is ready to drop everything and follow. Jesus so trusts Mary that  he sends her and Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) on a mission to spread the Gospel to Sumeria.

A lot of the usual trappings and incidents of a typical Jesus movie are ignored in this rendition.  There’s no Sermon on the Mount or miracle of the bread and fishes, no trial before Pontius Pilate or the Sanhedrin, no Herod. We experience only what Mary experiences.

This makes for a less flashy, more intimate retelling of the Gospels. “Mary Magdalene” is about relationships. One of the more interesting characters is Tahar Rahim’s Judas, played not as a skulking villain but as an baby-faced enthusiast who betrays Jesus not for money but to force him to show his true powers.

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Sunny Pawer

Sunny Pawer

“LION” My rating: B+

118 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Half Dickensian epic, half heart-wrenching domestic drama, “Lion” tells a real-life story so unlikely that it stretches credulity.

But it happened.

In 1986 five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawer, in one of the most astonishing performances by a young child ever captured on film)  was living with his widowed mother and two siblings in a rural area of central India.  His mother worked as a laborer (she literally lifted rocks all day); Saroo and an older brother stole lumps of coal from passing trains,  trading them for food.

On one nighttime outing, Saroo was separated from his brother and found himself locked inside an empty passenger train being driven more than 1,000 miles to Calcutta to be decommissioned.

Little Saroo didn’t know his family’s last name or the town he hailed from. Worse, he spoke only Hindi, while the Calcuttans spoke Bengali.

For months the child lived on the street — begging, stealing, avoiding capture by criminals seeking child prostitutes. After several close calls Saroo found himself in an orphanage where, miraculously enough, he was paired with an Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham, Nicole Kidman).

Relocated to middle-class comfort in Tasmania, the lost boy seemed to have washed up in paradise.  Not even the addition to the family of his troubled adopted brother, Mantosh — like Saroo an Indian orphan but with severe emotional and social issues — could seriously erode the fairy-tale quality of Saroo’s good fortune.

(By the way, John and Sue seem pretty good candidates for sainthood.)

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