The Case for Christ (★★★, PG, 113 mins) might have the ring of a Da Vinci Code banalisation or of an anodyne, new-era American Evangelical film. Yet, while edging these barriers, it manages to create a religious film that doesn’t finagle us into believing.
Western unrest in the 1930s created a vogue for horror films, much like the one now. A development that is more of an advantage to Catholics is the increasing gradient towards religion in Hollywood – perhaps drawing from the same unrest. It’s seen Sony and Fox set up departments specifically for releasing faith-based films.
The year is 1980. Lee Strobel (Mike Vogel) works as a star reporter on the Chicago Tribune. His wife, Leslie (Erika Christensen), is expecting their second child. When their young daughter chokes on a gumball in a local restaurant, a nurse, Alfie (L Scott Caldwell), is on hand to save her – a nurse who is also a member of Willow Creek Community Church, an Evangelical megachurch in Chicago. The atheist Strobels are astounded to hear that Alfie had originally planned to go to another restaurant that night, but “someone” had told her to attend theirs.
Leslie then starts to attend Willow Creek Church with Alfie, while Lee decides to try to disprove the story of Jesus’s Resurrection, in a committed hack’s way of “checking out” a story. The Tribune’s watchword, writ on their walls, is “Your mother says she loves you? Check it out”. (This mirrors my old Catholic Herald news editor Simon Caldwell’s poster dictum: “Simon Says: Go to the Primary Sources.”)
It’s tempting to infer something rather facile in Strobel’s endeavour (basically fact-checking the Gospels). Cue spoiler alert: Lee Strobel is in real life a journalist-turned-author-turned-pastor (he features in box-office hot-stuff God’s Not Dead 2), and this actually happened to him. Don’t let that put you off, though. The film is solidly paced and has its religious thrust. Relationships between family and work characters, and academic sections, are well balanced. The script, specifically the dialogue between Leslie and Lee, could be more sparkling. But all in all a good effort.
Another striking film this week is 7 Days (★★★★, cert TBC, 96 mins), a love story set on the island of Levanzo, west of Sicily. Ivan (Bruno Tode-schini) and Chiara (Alessia Barela) have six days to fix preparations for a wedding (of Ivan’s brother and Chiara’s best friend).
The island is part of a group where boats of refugees arrive from Syria and Libya. The soon-to-be lovers shelter in various rooms of an abandoned hotel, the lugubrious vibe and the murkily saline heat making for a crouched tension you can feel. There is a scene in a bare dining room, where local mourners are eating, that captures the idea that Latins can be as pinched, parsimonious and bleak as northern Europeans.
The film’s premise is: can love be put into stasis, or be paused, for convenience? Chiara has a partner already, who will soon arrive for the wedding. Ivan, during the fling, says: “Let’s pause this, never to return, once the wedding arrives.” Once calamity descends, he suggests meeting once a year, on the island, to revisit their love. Of course, such hope is cursed – but we are left with enduring images of underwater love, set to a folkloric Sicilian soundtrack and some Lhasa de Sela songs.
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