Films for the holy week

This post is antedated. This was my column on the date indicated above.

In the spirit of the Lenten season I will take a break from annoying other people and passing judgment on the latest blunders of our leaders.

However, I will continue to express - as I have done in the past - my bemusement over the way many people are scrambling all over themselves to get out of Metro Manila for the Holy Week. I will continue to maintain that the Holy Week is the best time to be in the Metro - it’s the time when there are less people on the road and there is less pollution and noise. Of course, as a friend pointedly warned me, it wouldn’t be anymore if people finally come to their senses and decide to stay in the Metro during the Holy Week. Then again, we Filipinos are creatures of habit. We do things for no other reason except we’ve always done them a certain way. So I doubt very much if people will stop their annual exodus out of the Metro around this time of the year just because people point out how odd that practice is.

I realize of course that for many, it’s the only relatively long stretch of time that they could do so particularly since the Aquino administration has stopped what the previous administration referred to as “holiday economics.” There are only very few long weekends in 2011 so I can empathize with people who see the Holy Week as vacation time rather than as time for reflection.

Whether one is cooped up in the Metro or stranded somewhere in a beach along the fringes of the Ocean Pacific, the question remains: What to do during the Holy Week? Ideally, it is the perfect time for some spiritual reflection. If one is not up for the challenge, there’s always reading, of course. Unfortunately, not very many find reading a pleasurable activity nowadays.

So we’re really left with one other option, which is not necessarily a bad one: Watch movies on DVD. I personally have lined up a number of DVDs that I intend to watch at some point between tomorrow, Maundy Thursday, and Easter Sunday; most of them DVDs of television series.

I know. Our bishops have come up with an advisory about not buying pirated DVDs. I will not go into the merits and demerits of our bishops’ latest advocacy; I will note however a very obvious and amusing fact: More pirated DVDs are sold around churches. In fact, what could easily pass off as the main depots for pirated DVDs are the two major places of worship and devotion in Metro Manila, which are the national Shrine of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo and the National Shrine of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baclaran. As I said, it is Holy Week so I will try not to make fun of the obvious correlation.

But in case you are in search of suitable movies to watch during this season of reflection but have had more than enough of Charles Heston’s and Yul Brynner’s grim countenance in The Ten Commandments and similar fare, I have listed in this piece some of the movies I have purposely reserved for occasions like Holy Week. I think these movies are spiritual although not necessarily “religious.” I, however, maintain that more often than not subtlety works best than hitting people in the head with certain messages.

The Mission is one of those films that has seemingly everything going for it - a great director (Roland Joffe of The Killing Fields), a renowned screenwriter (Robert Bolt of Doctor Zhivago), great actors (Robert de Niro, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, etc), and a genius composer behind its musical score (Ennio Morricone). It was a film dedicated to Ninoy Aquino, which gives it added significance to Filipinos. The movie is based on the events around the Treaty of Madrid in 1750 when Spain and Portugal were locked in a fight over territorial lines in South America. The movie is a majestic and powerful discourse on the quest for power and how religion and politics are potent forces in slavery and subjugation. It’s a movie that raises too many questions that one needs to ponder on.

Lorenzo’s Oil is a movie based on the real-life struggle of the Odone couple, parents of a boy (Lorenzo Odone) diagnosed with ALD or adrenoleucodystrophy, a genetic disease that progressively destroys the brain of young boys. The movie chronicles the boy’s survival, which had been mainly due to the single-minded refusal of his parents to accept the grim prognosis and their subsequent valiant quest for finding a cure - which led to the discovery of oleic acid as a cure for ALD. It’s an inspiring film that really talks about the power of faith and love.

Chariots of Fire is more renowned for its stirring Vangelis soundtrack, often used as stinger music for events. The movie is based on the true story of two men who run in the 1924 Olympic footrace against all odds. It’s an absorbing and inspirational movie about the triumph of the human spirit. The story is about sports, but in this particular movie, sports - or running, in particular - is used as a metaphor for life.

The Shawshank Redemption is a tale of friendship and survival but is really about the redemptive power of hope. The quotation “Fear can hold you prisoner, hope can set you free” was a blurb from the film. The film is based on a Stephen King novella (Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption). This film paved the way for another King novel that did well in the box office - The Green Mile, which is another movie that should be in this list.

Freedom Writers is also based on a true story, this time about a high school class and their teacher who inspired them to rise above the tragic conditions seemingly imposed on them by society. It’s one of the few movies that successfully linked the Holocaust to contemporary setting; Anne Frank’s diary being a central part of the plotline.

Other movies that should be in this list that I would have wanted to write about but cannot due to space limitations are: Schindler’s List, The Kid, Pay It Forward, August Rush, Meet Joe Black, The Matrix trilogy, and yes, The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

It would be extremely myopic on my part if I don’t include Filipino films in this list. There are quite a number of Filipino movies that also offer rich opportunities for reflection among them Laurice Guillen’s recent films such as Tanging Yaman. But three Filipino films I would recommend are classics. Two Lino Brocka movies stand out for being excellent social treatises on corruption, morality, and redemption: Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang, which starred a young Christopher de Leon and Miguelito, which starred a young Aga Muhlach. Ishmael Bernal’s Himala remains unparalleled for storytelling and filmmaking, small wonder really that it was picked as CNN’s best Asian movie of all time.

And if you are really craving for a film along the genre of The Christ’s Passion but don’t want anything ponderous, I would recommend The Prince of Egypt which is one of the best animated films ever made.


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