A film club podcast devoted to works of high artistic caliber and Catholic interest, exploring the Vatican film list and beyond. Hosted by Thomas V. Mirus and actor James T. Majewski, with special guests. Our selected podcast clips offer a great introduction!
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A middle-aged Swedish man realizes that he must make a sacrifice to God in order to avert the onset of nuclear war. The Sacrifice deals, in director Tarkovsky’s words, with "the theme of harmony which is born only of sacrifice, the twofold dependence of love. It's not a question of mutual love: what nobody seems to understand is that love can only be one-sided, that no other love exists, that in any other form it is not love. If it involves less than total giving, it is not love."
Animation director Timothy Reckart (The Star) joins Criteria to discuss his thesis that the greatest action movie of recent years, Mad Max: Fury Road, is best viewed in light of Pope St. John Paul II's theology of the body.
The Tree of Wooden Clogs, by Catholic director Ermanno Olmi, depicts a year in the life of four peasant families living on a tenant farmhouse in late 19th century Lombardy. The actors are non-professionals, real local peasants speaking their Bergamasque dialect, recreating their normal life on camera (even if in the trappings of a century earlier). The result is a stunning vision of a now-bygone culture that grew out of close contact with the land.
For decades critics said Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane was the greatest film ever made. Unfortunately, that intimidating label sometimes keeps people from sitting down and watching the thing. It needn’t be so. Kane is eminently watchable and entertaining. It also definitely isn’t the greatest film of all time, but it’s one of the most technically impressive, especially considering it was directed, producted, co-written and starred in by a 25-year-old who’d never made a movie before.
A discussion of Billy Wilder's acerbic and vastly entertaining critique of Hollywood avarice and vanity, Sunset Boulevard.
Trying to make sense of the most dubious selection on the Vatican film list: Francesco (1989), starring Mickey Rourke as St. Francis and Helena Bonham-Carter as St. Clare.
The great Italian director Roberto Rossellini made what is generally regarded as the best movie about St. Francis of Assisi. Its original Italian title is Francesco, giullare di Dio ("Francis, God's jester"), but in English it is known as The Flowers of St. Francis - the film being based on a 14th-century Italian novel with the same title. As the Italian title suggests, Rossellini wanted to focus on the whimsical aspects of the saint's personality.
The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Return to Oz (1985) offer very different takes on L. Frank Baum's source material and approaches to children's fantasy. Wizard's fantasy is overtly artificial and ultimately illusory, yet attempts to provide a contrived moral to its story. Return's fantasy is more fully realized and darker, but attempts no particular moral lesson.
Thomas Mirus, James Majewski, and Nathan Douglas discuss the new Amazon series, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. The show thus far is not so much offensive as it is bland in ways similar to much popular film and television today. This discussion attempts to understand why the show generally fails to move, focusing especially on its frequent small-mindedness or arbitrariness in characterization and writing, and on its habit of signalling emotion rather than genuinely conveying it.
Catholic art historian Elizabeth Lev returns to Criteria to discuss two films about Michelangelo: The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) and Sin (2019). Both deal with the tension between artistic/religious integrity and working for patrons who may be commissioning religious works for worldly motives.
A discussion of the classic film noir Sweet Smell of Success. "Success" is one of the great American idols, and the two acid-tongued protagonists of this film entertainingly embody the dark side of success in the seeking and the finding, as desperate publicity man Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) eats dirt instead of gravy from the train of ruthless gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster).
Bicycle Thieves, the most beloved classic of Italian neo-realist cinema, would be too easily explained as depicting the crushing pressures of poverty and societal dysfunction in Rome immediately following World War II. But the film transcends any sociological analysis: it has something spiritual to say about how those in poverty can respond to their situation: about trust, and about how quickly things get worse when we act as though we are in control of our circumstances.
On the morning of January 15, 1944, Nazis raided a boarding school for boys in Avon, France. The Carmelite monks who ran the school had been hiding some Jewish boys there under false names. As a number of the children and teachers watched, three of their classmates were led away by the Nazis, along with the headmaster, Pere Jacques, who turned back to say only, "Au revoir, les enfants" ("Goodbye, children").
An introduction to one of the most influential genres of Hollywood's golden age: film noir. Noir's distinctively moody chiaroscuro look, suspense-laden plotting, and clever, "hard-boiled" dialogue deriving from popular crime fiction make it a most entertaining style. But why did a genre exploring the cynical, seedy and criminal side of American life thrive in the optimistic years of the late 1940s?
James and Thomas discuss George Cukor's 1933 adaptation of Little Women, with Katharine Hepburn playing Jo March. The film was included on the Vatican's 1995 list of important films, in the category of Art.
A mere eight years after the 1920 canonization of Joan of Arc, and in the midst of her great popularity as a French national hero, Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer made The Passion of Joan of Arc. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, because of the lead actress's transcendent performance and the film's radical visual style.
A discussion of the Coen brothers' most Catholic film, Hail, Caesar!, which deals with the problem of vocation and the spiritual value of art.
Kon Ichikawa's 1956 classic The Burmese Harp is, oddly, a World War II film from the Japanese perspective. It's an anti-war film, and a film about piety toward the dead, but it's also about vocation and how it relates to membership in a community.
Released in 1936, Modern Times is both Chaplin's last silent film and his first talkie - his character, the Little Tramp, is silent and the only time we hear people talking is when their voices are mediated through technology, such as on the radio or through an intercom system. This depersonalized and one-way approach to dialogue on film reflects not only a commentary on modern communications but also Chaplin's personal aversion to the sound era.
The new film Father Stu is based on the true story of Stuart Long, a rough-around-the-edges boxer-turned-priest who died in 2014. Mark Wahlberg plays Fr. Stu in an Oscar-worthy performance, and Mel Gibson makes another entry in long list of broken father roles he has played in recent years. James and Thomas review the film, discussing the pros and cons of the film's gritty humor, and the depiction of Stu's growth in spiritual maturity through suffering.
Poet, translator and cultural commentator Anthony Esolen joins James and Thomas to discuss two classic comedies by Preston Sturges: Sullivan’s Travels (1941) and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944). Sturges wrote dialogue that is fast, sharp and snappy, but never flippant or glib. He was virtuosic in navigating dark material with a light touch, and able to switch seamlessly between pathos and humor, ending up in a place of warmth and graciousness without sappy sentimentality.
James and Thomas interview Yelena Popovic, writer and director of the new film Man of God, about the Greek Orthodox saint Nektarios of Aegina. Man of God will be in select theaters in the U.S. on March 21 and 28. At 17, Yelena left Belgrade, Yugoslavia to escape civil war. She ended up as a model in New York City, and then in L.A., where she learned the filmmaking arts. Parallel to this artistic journey was a spiritual one, which ultimately led her to make a film about St. Nektarios.
A poor, half-witted girl is sold by her mother to be the assistant of a brutal traveling circus strongman in La Strada ("the road"). Federico Fellini's 1954 masterpiece attests to the seeds that can be planted by selfless love, even in the face of abuse and rejection. Condemned by Marxist critics in 1950s Italy, the film found a better initial reception in the United States, where viewers saw Giulietta Masina's unforgettable protagonist as a "cross between St. Rita and Mickey Mouse".
James and Thomas review a new film about the popular Greek Orthodox saint Nektarios, Man of God. Nektarios was slandered and mistreated by his fellow clergy and his patriarch, but bore it all with great meekness. (Mickey Rourke plays a paralytic healed by the saint.)
Nazarin does not seek to discredit the Church by portraying an obviously hypocritical, venal or sensual priest. Rather, protagonist Fr. Nazario is a Quixote figure, unable to make any difference in this miserable world no matter how strictly he follows his religious code. For director Luis Buñuel, whatever moments of human kindness we may encounter along the way cannot change the fact that life is hell.
A married couple divorces over mutual suspicion of infidelity - but the two can't seem to leave each other alone, hilariously interfering with one another's attempts to find someone else. Leo McCarey's classic "comedy of remarriage" starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne is notable, among other things, for its joyously frank yet appropriately veiled treatment of marital eros - an artistic triumph spurred by the salutary censorship of Hollywood's Production Code.
Elia Kazan's 1954 film On the Waterfront is included on the Vatican's film list in the Values section. The film broke ground in its gritty, realistic production and acting style, particularly manifested in Marlo Brando's unforgettable performance as low-down dockworker Terry Malloy. It offers a vision of how we can be transformed by attending to the demands of conscience, articulated in fully Christian terms in a classic monologue by one of the greatest movie priests in Hollywood history.
James improvises an impassioned dramatic monologue about the inadequacies of Joel Coen's new adaptation of The Tragedy of Macbeth, starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. Orson Welles's 1948 version, he argues, is aesthetically similar but far superior. Thomas sits and listens.
James and Thomas finally conclude their look at Dekalog, the series of short films inspired by the Ten Commandments which Krzysztof Kieslowski made for Polish television in the late 1980s. The series ends on a lighter note, with two sons fighting over their deceased father's stamp collection. The film continues the series' preoccupation with the sins of father, making the rueful observation that we often understand and compassionate our parents only after falling into their same vices.
Jean-Louis, 34-year-old Catholic engineer, lives a quiet life studying mathematics and reading Pascal. One day, he sees a beautiful girl, Francoise, at Mass and decides he will marry her. But this pursuit is interrupted when he spends the night before Christmas at the apartment of a seductive divorcee, the atheist Maud, who tests his moral code.
Chariots of Fire offers quite a bit to chew on not just in its primary themes of conscience and using one's gifts for God's glory, but also regarding the importance of the amateur spirit, how sport can be properly integrated into education and life as a whole, and how a great civilization must value the achievements of those who came before.
A knight returning home from the Crusades gets into a chess match with Death. Ingmar Bergman's most famous film, The Seventh Seal, is a searing meditation on death, faith, and the silence of God. But it's far more colorful and entertaining than you might expect from that description.
After being diagnosed with permanent impotence, a husband begins to suspect his wife is having an affair. Dekalog: Nine asks whether love and sex can be separated in marriage - as well as sex and procreation. It suggests that when a married couple chooses not to have children, the door is opened to other kinds of selfishness as well.
Fr. Brendon Laroche joins Thomas to review Denis Villeneuve's film Dune: Part One. Fr. Brendon. who knows the original novel by Frank Herbert well, gives his thoughts on how the film fares as an adaptation, and on what Catholics ought to make of the religious elements of Herbert's novel.
D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation is a landmark of world cinema said to have established the grammar of cinema. It is also an astonishingly racist film, portraying black people as subhuman and the Ku Klux Klan as civilization-saving heroes. Griffith's next film, Intolerance, included on the Vatican's 1995 list of important films, is less morally objectionable and even more artistically ambitious - but is a thematically incoherent failure.
A discussion of Season 2 of The Chosen. The series continues to set a high imaginative standard in its portrayal of the Twelve Apostles, but also ventures into more problematic theological territory.
In 1943 Warsaw, a little Jewish girl is brought to the home of a Catholic woman who has offered to provide her a fake baptismal certificate so she could be safely settled with a Catholic family. Upon her arrival, though, the woman turns her away, saying it is against the principles of her religion to lie. Decades later, that little girl, who had escaped to America and survived, returns to Warsaw to confront the woman in order to make sense of what happened to her.
Film critic and deacon Steven Greydanus joins the show to discuss one of the best movies about a saint ever made, Monsieur Vincent, about St. Vincent de Paul. It is a very rare thing: a compelling drama about a soul already advanced in the spiritual life.
James and Thomas tackle Alain Cavalier's 1986 film Thérèse. It gives them a chance to ask the question: What makes for a great saint movie? One of the great strengths of the film is actress Catherine Mouchet's amazing physical resemblance to the Little Flower, but also the way in which she seems to inhabit her from the inside, shining forth a visible beatitude unique in cinematic portrayals of saints. She does this without ever falling into the "plaster saint" sentimentality one might fear.
It's remarkable that as recently as 1986, we had a hit movie, with A-list stars (Jeremy Irons, Robert De Niro) and an A-list composer (Ennio Morricone), that takes a nuanced look at a controversial historical subject, European Christian missionary activity. The Mission could not be made today.
The podcast returns to yet another episode from Dekalog, the series of Polish short films inspired by the Ten Commandments. Part seven, based on the commandment "Thou shalt not steal", is about a young woman who kidnaps her own daughter. It asks the question: can you steal something that belongs to you? But it also asks: what happens when motherhood is stolen from you?
A Quiet Place Part II is a more straightforward horror film than its predecessor, with less emotional weight, but it delivers well-executed suspense and action while faithfully carrying forward the first film's themes of themes of family and self-sacrifice.
James and Thomas interview Sixtine Leon-Dufour, writer of the new Lourdes documentary, one of the best religious films in recent years. She discusses her background caring for the sick at Lourdes, how she convinced the Lourdes authorities to give secular filmmakers unprecedented shooting access to this holy place, how a documentary about a Marian pilgrimage got the support of a large French secular film studio and became a big success, showing the inner life of those who come to Lourdes, and more.
A new documentary on Lourdes, originally released in France in 2019, is now in theaters in the US. It is intensely moving and one of the best religious films in recent years. Written by a Catholic who used to care for the sick at Lourdes, it is an inside look at the spiritual but also deeply human needs and aspirations that lead people to this place of miracles.
There are a few films on the Vatican film list James and Thomas haven't been looking forward to watching. Among them is Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, and our dread was due to the suspicion that this film, certainly negligible in its historical importance as a work of cinema, was included mainly because Vatican bureaucrats of a certain age are apt to confuse Mohandas K. Gandhi with a Catholic saint.
Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 is widely considered to be the best film ever made about filmmaking, but it's about much more than that. Ingenious cinematography and surreal images convey the experience of a man who is increasingly lost in his own memory and fantasy, and so finds himself unable to have real relationships with the people in his life or to bear fruit as an artist.
In honor of Pope St. John Paul II's birthday, we discuss the 2005 film about his life starring Cary Elwes as young Karol Wojtyla and Jon Voight as the Pope. One of the strengths of the film, made within a few months of the saint's death, is its portrayal of John Paul II's Polishness and how it influenced him as a world leader. Other aspects of the film are outdated in light of what we know today, such as its sunny portrayal of the Vatican and the Curia.
The sixth episode of Kieslowski's Dekalog series inspired by the Ten Commandments deals with a characteristically modern form of adultery: voyeurism.
A good priest is threatened with death for the sins of an evil one. He has one week to prepare. That is the simple premise of Martin McDonagh's 2014 film Calvary, starring Brendan Gleeson. This portrait of a heroic but very human priest illuminates the crucifixions, mundane or dramatic, faced by good parish priests everywhere, but especially in post-Catholic cultures such as Ireland, in which the film is set.
In 1962, inspired by Pope St. John XXIII's outreach to non-Christian artists, a gay communist picked up the Gospels and ended up making a film about Jesus. This might make you nervous, but one thing with which you can't charge Pier Paolo Pasolini is taking liberties with his source material - the dialogue in The Gospel According to Matthew is drawn entirely from that book of the Bible.
In anticipation of Season 2 of The Chosen, the popular TV series based on the Gospels, Thomas and James take a look back at Season 1 and what made it so remarkable. They are joined by Oratorian Br. Joshua Vargas. The show’s two greatest strengths are its writing, which James calls “an education in meditation on the Gospels”, and Jonathan Roumie’s outstanding, childlike yet masculine performance as Jesus, which Joshua considers “equally as compelling” as Jim Caviezel’s.
"The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good."
Dersu Uzala is a heartwarming adventure tale about the unlikely friendship between a man of civilization and a man of the wilderness. On a mission to map the Russian Far East, Arseniev encounters Dersu Uzala, a hunter and member of the Goldi people, from whom he learns much about the strange courtesies of life in the wild, based on a respect for all beings. But while this heartfelt friendship is not defeated by profound cultural differences, neither can it fully overcome them.
There is only one American film in the "Religion" section of the Vatican film list: William Wyler's 1959 epic Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Its epic scale and its astonishing set pieces such as the sea battle and the chariot race make the small, understated moments when Jesus enters the story all the more striking. Thomas and James are joined by Catholic art historian and Rome tour guide Elizabeth Lev to discuss the film.
We enjoy The Mandalorian more than any other recent Star Wars productions. But its second season sometimes doesn’t trust us to suspend our disbelief in certain respects, while elsewhere expecting us to accept, on ideological grounds, things that are unbelievable even in its fantasy setting. This prompts a discussion of the difference between the suspension of disbelief and unreality in a fantasy setting.
This film makes us confront on a visceral level the horror of taking a human life, even the life of someone we might find despicable. It is the fifth installment of Dekalog, the famous Polish TV series inspired by the Ten Commandments.
In Mel Gibson's countercultural Chris Cringle we have a father figure who understands and compassionates the childhood wounds of his adversaries, yet insists that wicked deeds require retribution both for justice's and for the evildoer's own sake.
James and Thomas discuss Catholic director Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life with popular podcaster and writer Patrick Coffin.
Almost one hundred years ago, the great German director Fritz Lang offered us a beautiful yet nightmarish vision of a world strangely similar to our present. Society is unimaginably prosperous yet produces mass misery. There is a sense of an end coming for Babel.
A father is challenged to definitively embrace his paternal role as authority and protector, lest his already ambiguous relationship with daughter be perverted into something truly monstrous.
James and Thomas discuss an animated classic, Walt Disney's Fantasia (1940), with Oscar-nominated animator and director Timothy Reckart ("Head Over Heels", The Star).
A discussion of horror and treatment of the occult in movies, leading into a discussion of the classic vampire film Nosferatu.
Krzysztof Kieślowski's DEKALOG (1988) is a series of 10 short films inspired by the Ten Commandments. With this episode we discuss the third film in the series, which deals with the third commandment: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy."
Alec Guinness stars in this 1951 heist-comedy that stands apart as perhaps the most purely entertaining film included on the Vatican Film List.
Vie et Passion du Christ (Life and Passion of the Christ) is is one of the earliest feature-length narrative films, produced and released in 1903. The film portrays the events of the Gospels - from the Annunciation to the Ascension - employing only visual language (it is a silent film, with inter-titles used only to introduce the scene titles).
James and Thomas discuss Krzysztof Kieślowski's DEKALOG, a series of 10 short-films inspired by the Ten Commandments.
Our first response to the new feature film based on the events surrounding Our Lady of Fatima's appearance in 1917.
James and Thomas discuss this seminal work by director Jean Renoir, son of the famous French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
James and Thomas discuss Ingmar Bergman's WILD STRAWBERRIES, one of his greatest and most moving films.
James and Thomas discuss Krzysztof Kieślowski's DEKALOG, a series of 10 short-films inspired by the Ten Commandments.
James and Thomas take a momentary departure from the Vatican Film List to discuss the classic and controversial film, Gone with the Wind.
In this bonus episode of Criteria, Thomas asks Louis Karlin whether Robert Bolt’s play and film A Man for All Seasons accurately depict St. Thomas More’s views on the rights of conscience, and his motives for martyrdom.
James and Thomas discuss A Man for All Seasons, the film adaptation of Robert Bolt's award-winning play about St. Thomas More.
James and Thomas discuss Stagecoach, the classic American Western directed by John Ford.
James and Thomas discuss 2001: A Space Odyssey, the classic science fiction film directed by Stanley Kubrick.
James and Thomas discuss Babette's Feast, an Oscar-winning religious classic directed by Gabriel Axel and based on a short story by Karen Blixen.
Introducing Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast! This is a show dedicated to exploring films of significant artistic merit and Catholic interest, starting with the Vatican’s 1995 list of "Some Important Films".
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