Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Square (Al Midan) - A Sundance Film Review

The Square (Al Midan)

World Documentary (Egypt)
90 minutes
English & Arabic with English Subtitles

Directed by Jehane Noujaim (Control Room; Rafea; Solar Mama) this is an enlightening and eye opening documentary film that details the struggle for democracy behind the ongoing revolution in Egypt. The focal point is on Cairo's Tahrir Square where we follow an array of young adults who are at the cusp of social change in their country. They find themselves scattered and unable to unite protestors originally gathered together because of pleas sent out on social media sites. Once Hosni Mubarek steps down, the military steps in with a heavy hand on those desiring democracy. Because the protestors are not united as a group, when the elections come around, the Muslim Brotherhood stealthily slip one of their own into power. It continues to be a fight for freedom, justice and peace in a country where every day is a life and death struggle.

While watching this film, I felt privileged for the freedom I have. However, I keep reflecting that the emphasis was on a freedom from something: economic oppression, religious persecution, oppressive governmental laws, and corruption. Yet, true freedom is a freedom for something, for others. Freedom is about self-giving love. The film progressed from the protestors being angry and passionate to  growing in compassion for one another, their fellow democracy-dreamers, and those who were injured or killed. Freedom is a state of being, one that is internal first of all. But when there is external oppression and hindrance on freedom, the internal freedom of self cannot have full expression. 

On a personal note, I sat on a bus with the director's mother and told her that I felt the film was very impressive. She said her daughter, Jehane, was nervous waiting for the audience's reactions at each of the screenings and she was pleased when she receive such a interested response. I told her I would be praying for her daughter and for their country.   

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Stronger - Theology & Popular Music

I'm posting my theological reflections on Kelly Clarkson's song, Stronger, since she just won best Pop album at the Grammys. Here it is:

Kelly Clarkson
Genre: Pop

About a year and a half ago I went through a particularly painful transition that was induced by external and internal organizational factors. I felt I was being crushed, but interiorly I knew, I would not let this destroy me. This song came out soon after and became my anthem. People can throw you a punch that you did not see coming, but it’s how you deal with it that makes all the difference.

Kelly speaks in this song about broken relationships and self-empowerment. There is defiance in the voice that expresses a resolution that someone’s inconsideration, betrayal or selfishness will not bring us down. People cannot break us because we are worth something regardless of their acceptance or even in spite of their injustice. Respecting ourselves prevents us from being destroyed by another and makes us stronger and more self-confident.

Life’s losses are occasions for reflecting on who we really are and what is our purpose in life. We sometimes struggle to latch onto that thread of courage to keep moving forward without seeing any hope of consolation. Yet, the more we see painful occasions as opportunity for growth and moments of grace the more we cultivate interior strength and serenity. God's grace comes to us in powerful ways during times of difficulty. It requires an attentiveness to the spirit to recognize those expressions of grace and they can redeem the entire challenging situation. 

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete - Sundance Film Review

US Drama
120 min.

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete takes one on a heart-rending journey following the story of two boys of drug addict mothers in the projects of Brooklyn. Fourteen-year-old Mister (Skylan Brooks) and nine-year-old Pete (Ethan Dizon) fend for themselves when Mister's mother (Jennifer Hudson) is booked for drugs. They survive the heat of the summer and forage for food in the most creative ways while avoiding detection by the NY child protective services. When Pete gets ill Mister is at his wits end and longs for his mother's care and support.

A brilliant and emotionally charged script brings the viewer into the lives of these vulnerable yet indomitable young boys who show that the human spirit can survive even the most devastating of circumstances. It makes one question, “How can the human spirit survive such tragedy?” There is such a deep need in the human soul to love and be loved. So much so that it will not give up so easily. 

These two boys felt the deprivation of their mothers’ love. When Pete asks Mister, “Is it OK not to love your mom?” Mister replies, “You can’t help but to love her but you don’t have to like her.” This scene ripped at my heart and all I could think of was the passage from Isaiah that says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Is. 49:15). It also raises our social justice antennas toward the poverty of so many children in our cities and that no one should face survival in this world alone, especially the children.

Life According to Sam - A Sundance Film Review

US Documentary
Directed by: Sean & Andrea Nix Fine

This is a story about Sam Berns, the son of Drs. Leslie and Scott Berns of Foxborough, MA. Sam, just before he turned two, was diagnosed with progeria, an extremely rare and fatal disease that affects only about 250 children worldwide. It speeds up the aging process of the child so that by the time that they are 12 their bodies are aged like an 80 year old and usually die of heart attacks or strokes. 

The parents immediately started a foundation and eventually discovered the gene that causes progeria and so began an experimental drug program for about 18 of the children affected by this disease. I was so struck by the pro-life message of this film, especially how the parents loved Sam, held him, took care of him and consoled him. It was a film about hoping against all hope. Being both doctors, the parents are documented as expressing their utter helplessness before this rare disease. They can help and heal others but they could do nothing for their son. It required a heroic letting go and surrender. 

Often in life it is only in moments of complete surrender that we can trust God to direct our lives. In our helplessness we come to know that we are not in control. We can and should do all we can to help those we love, but at a certain point, our fallibilities take over. We can only surrender in trust. I experienced this hope-filled message in this film, especially when the humor breaks forth through it all. Sam and his parents have struggled, but also have hoped and that hope gives life. Video Trailer

Fill the Void - A Sundance Film Review

(90 min – Hebrew with English subtitles)

Fill the Void was one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. It was shown as a spotlight film at Sundance under the category of World Drama. Shot almost entirely in close-ups, I felt I was a member of this Orthodox Jewish family in Tel-Aviv experiencing their dramas and feeling their emotions. The audience is transported to a community of deep-seated tradition with strict social codes that direct the way men and women interact with each other.

Directed by Rama Burshtein, this is a story about an 18-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl, Shira, who lives a sheltered life and is expected to marry the person her parents choose for her. Shira’s older sister is married and about to have a child. When tragedy strikes, Shira's mother wants her younger daughter to marry her deceased daughter's husband so her newborn grandchild can remain in the family. When she made this suggestion known to her son-in-law, since there was talk that he would marry another woman who lives in Belgium, he thought it absurd and refuses. Shira's previously arranged marriage proposal disintegrates and after some consideration her brother-in-law offers to take her as his wife. Shira feels trapped. She wants to do what people expect of her, but cannot help desiring a marriage that is born out of affection and love rather than necessity. She accepts, pleasantly but with complete indifference. When they go before the Rabbi to make their intention known, he looks intently at Shira and asks what her feelings are about the matter. The scene changes before we know what she actually replies, but we next see her crying and her brother-in-law fuming in anger. After several on-again off-again marriage arrangements with her former brother-in-law, she begins to dig deeper into her own feelings and discover that which would truly give her joy and peace.

This film is about relationships and family traditions, but it is also about the struggle one experiences in choosing a path in life. It addresses the need to weigh family expectations with one’s happiness and contentment. There is a longing for oneness, for completion, for human connection and love. We cannot live without it. We all desire it. We all long for it. This is the longing that only God can ultimately fulfill. That is the desire for the supernatural, for intimacy, for wholeness and meaning. God is directing our lives and works with the choices we make. But, in our interior discernment, the choices that give us the most peace are the choices that are not solely about satisfying ourselves but are about giving of ourselves in love.