I am back from a full vacation and a wonderful eight-day retreat. This year, the sisters were offered the opportunity to make a Cinema Divina Retreat–like a Lectio Divina retreat which focuses on praying with the Word of God, but with the added richness of a film viewing that is related to the Gospel passage of the day.
Here are the films we viewed:
Adam’s Apples – the opening film and probably the most moving to me personally. This dark Danish comedy is like a modern parable in the surprising style of Flannery O’Connor. It fit very well with the Gospel for the day, which was Mt. 14:13-21–the miraculous feeding of the crowds with five loaves and two fish, but the Gospel passage it evoked for me on retreat was Jesus’ temptations in the desert, which became the centerpiece of my week of prayer. (More about that later.)
Gran Torino – the amazing film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. This film was the favorite of several sisters who made the retreat, with its profound themes of community, family, grace, mercy, neighbor, and redemption.
The Diary of Anne Frank – in which I felt the dramatic contrast between the hopes of this young, blossoming young woman and the darkness of the evil that surrounded her and her family
Blue – another amazing film by writer/director/producer Krzysztof Kieslowski, who set out to create a film about emotional liberty and brilliantly succeeds. Both this film and the next are my favorite kind of movies, haunting the viewers for days afterwards as we piece together the meaning and implications of these powerful stories.
The Lives of Others – which deservedly won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2008 and is set in East Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall. This stark film is the story of an agent for the secret police who carries out the surveillance of a playwright and his girlfriend–and what happens as he listens to the intricacies of their lives. A profound film about listening, courage, human dignity, and grace.
For me, the power of a cinematic retreat is that, like any artistic masterpiece, truly great films can help us to plunge right into the depths of the Gospel themes that we are praying with, bypassing our usual resistances because films speak directly to the heart. I found each of these movies to be tremendous spiritual “allies” on my retreat journey.