I know that it is a big call this early in the Sydney Film Festival, but Calvary by writer-director John Michael McDonagh has made the whole festival worthwhile for me. I think it is faultless and a model for other film makers in terms of story-telling, entertainment, brilliant script writing and character development. It deals with the role of the Catholic church in child abuse in Ireland (and many other places), but the writer-director very skilfully weaves the tale together through the life of a good priest played by the amazing Brendon Gleeson as he tends to his village flock under the threat of death from a victim of child abuse.
I also enjoyed the writer-director’s previous film The Guard, but I think this is even better as it deals with such a terrible aspect of church history, whilst reminding us of the good that is done by individuals within the church itself.
The script writing doesn’t avoid or trivialise any of the serious matters the film covers, but very effectively manages to recognise them and then pepper the story-telling with some wonderful conversational humour. It is a black comedy, but there are enough laughs to keep it truly entertaining and it is not so black a story that we are left without hope. I must also confess to loving the Irish accent of the brilliant cast as they seem to enjoy demonstrating John Michael McDonagh’s obvious love of language. One of the best lines for me was when Brendan Gleeson’s lead character drunkenly abuses his colleague (Father Leary, played by David Wilmot), saying that he lacks integrity and should be an accountant in an insurance firm. The is also an hilarious dialogue about those who join armies in peace time and whether a desire to murder someone should be seen to be as useful as an engineering degree.
In addition to all of this, the camera treats us to some stunning visuals of the Irish coast and Benbulbin to give us a true sense of place, and the musical score adds a further important dimension and mood to the film.
Film makers like John Michael McDonagh keep us coming back to the cinema. I stayed for his Q&A and two things he said stayed with me. Firstly he said that as a film maker he was committed to entertaining his audience. I think some other film-makers in this Festival could benefit from his advice. He writes to entertain and his method of story-telling leaves most others in the dust. Secondly, in response to a question he stated that it is foolish to refer to actors being “brave” in taking certain film roles, or for writers to take a “brave” perspective in dealing with subjects like child abuse. He said that was simply rubbish and that brave people are those who run into burning buildings to rescue others.
My score: 5/5, I really could find no faults at all.