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Film: Feel-bad movies

Movies | A shift from postmodern games to facing the bitter truth

Issue: "Urban mission fundraising," Sept. 27, 1997

Three decades ago, Francis Schaeffer taught us in True Spirituality that man without God is not only separated from his Creator, he is also cut off from his neighbor and from himself. Several of this year's foreign and independent films unknowingly demonstrate this point. The emptiness of these movies shows how our post-Christian era is trapped in its own meaninglessness-but at least is starting to admit it.

In Sunday, David Suchet (TV's Hercule Piorot) plays a homeless, downsized IBM executive. He has an affair with an aging British actress (Lisa Harrow) amid the ugly, decaying scenery of Queens, N.Y. She thinks he ¡s a famous movie director scouting for a location. He tries to explain and she doesn't hear him. This depressing, unromantic love story shows two people searching for an escape from their failed lives. Sunday is the dreary photo-negative of peppy love stories like My Best Friend's Wedding. It is the feel-bad movie of the year.

Equally depressing is Eye of God, in which a Christian parolee butchers his unbelieving wife after she has an abortion. A teenage boy who watches the murder eventually hangs himself. The three deaths are shown in montage together. Narrator Hal Holbrook, playing the town sheriff, compares it all to the story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son.

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Filmmaker Tim Blake Nelson obviously knows nothing about the Oklahoma Bible Belt Christianity he depicts. The movie gives new meaning to Steve Taylor's comments that a Christian can't get equal time unless he's a loony committing a crime.

A better tragic movie with spiritual themes is Ponette. It is an astounding French film about a little girl (Victoire Thivisol) coming to terms with her mother's death. She becomes distraught and tries to ask God to bring her back. Her father's atheism and her schoolyard friends' garbled views on religion only make this worse. The film is full of terrific acting and poignant scenes, though it turns into a fairy tale in the last reel. It shows the devastation of grief in a world that forgot the doctrine of the Resurrection.

Peter Hall's Delinquent is the most intriguing of the lot. This low-budget bit of existentialism is a showpiece of independent filmmaking. The title character is a teenage boy (Desmond Devenish) who escapes his abusive father after his mother's death by exploring the summer home of the rich girl (Shawn Batten) he fantasizes about. She's had an affair with a teacher at boarding school and heads up to the house in upstate New York to hide and get an abortion.

Disaster ensues as the tension rises and the movie turns into a psychological thriller. While the postmodern style has been to play coy ironic games, this movie's ultimate nihilism at least honestly faces up to the emptiness of its characters' lives.

If these movies are any sort of social barometer, dead mothers and dead babies are about to become hot subjects. So is loneliness. Families and relationships are as fragile as eggs. Everything breaks down.

These small flicks have tossed aside the whole GenX-pomo-cyber wave for the old-fashioned despair of Camus and Sartre. This isn't the breed of films shown on The Family Channel. They do, however, remind us of our dreadful state outside of God's grace.

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