Polish filmmaker Michał Kondrat’s latest release is a timely response to Pope Francis’ challenge that we all read Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy this year to honor the 700th anniversary of the Italian poet’s death. Dante’s theological masterpiece is an allegory of the soul’s journey toward God by rejecting sin (Hell/Inferno), making atonement for sin (Purgatory/Purgatorio), and finally ascending to God (Heaven/Paradiso).
Kondrat invites us to visualize what happens after death by considering the state of purgatory through Church teachings and the experiences of mystics and saints. The film opens with Stefania Fulla Horak (Małgorzata Kożuchowska), who was born in 1909 and schooled in Ukraine. Her story and mystical writings frame the film. In her 30s, she was visited by many saints, including Madeleine Sophie Barat, John Bosco, Padre Pio, and Joan of Arc. Horak wrote down their revelations and teachings, but only her writings on purgatory are featured here.
Catholics believe that purgatory is a state of purification so the soul may enter heaven. The film spends some time on Padre Pio’s life and 50 years of hearing confessions and praying for the souls in purgatory. He taught that there is great joy and suffering in purgatory, where egoism disappears and the soul’s torment is waiting to see God face-to-face. Narrator Drew Mariani connects these stories with commentary by priests on God’s mercy, what happens to those who take their own lives, and that it is more salutary to pray for the dead than to mourn their loss. While the film exudes faith, compassion, and mercy for the living and the dead, the teaching is clear that Christians are called to forgive and never hate: “Everything must be forgiven in life so that everything can be forgiven after death.”
The film distinguishes between diabolical obsession (when the devil bothers someone from the outside) and what could be a visit from a soul in purgatory asking for prayers. Death, hell, and heaven are also considered, and the film’s cinematography creates an ambience of otherworldliness. Kondrat, who also brought us 2019’s Faustina: Love and Mercy, has taken on an ambitious topic that will inspire hope and hopefully send audiences to research and contemplate the “last things”: death, purgatory, hell, and heaven.
The film will be shown in select theaters on October 25 and 28 only, with online and DVD releases later.
Not yet rated • Mature spiritual themes and suicide enactment.
Based on the multi-Tony-winning musical of the same name, this film is a coming-of-age story written by Steven Levenson and directed by Stephen Chbosky. Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) has social anxiety disorder and lives with his single mom, Heidi (Julianne Moore). As another year of high school begins, Heidi suggests that Ben make friends by asking kids to sign the cast on his broken arm. His therapist meanwhile suggests that Ben write letters to himself about the good things that happen every day.
The only kid at school who signs Evan’s cast is Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), who has mental and emotional issues. He steals one of Evan’s letters to himself, leaving Evan to worry about what he will do with it.
Then Connor commits suicide, shocking everyone. Evan is confused when he is called to the office and introduced to Connor’s mom, Cynthia (Amy Adams), and stepfather, Larry (Danny Pino). They thank Evan for being Connor’s friend because they found Evan’s letter in Connor’s pocket.
Evan decides to go along with the misunderstanding. He goes to the Murphys’ house for dinner and agrees with everything the family believes about the boys’ friendship. When the parents see Connor’s name on Evan’s cast, their belief that their son had at least one friend is confirmed. Evan gets his family friend Jared (Nik Dodani) to create emails showing this. Lie after lie follows, with Evan creating an important role for himself in a lonely world. People start to pay attention to him, but reality soon sets in.
Though I felt sympathy and compassion for the parents, the Broadway musical has not translated well to the screen. There is little to believe in this contrived story and nothing redeeming about Evan’s role in this film. The only song that impressed me is “Requiem,” but I left feeling empty at using the musical form to make a troubled teen the hero of his own broken story—and failing.
A-3 • PG-13 • Theme of suicide, pervasive lying.
Fran Kranz wrote and directed this drama that brings four grieving parents together six years after a tragedy. The film opens as church workers ready a meeting room at an Episcopal church. At one end of the room, a large crucifix looks down on the meeting table; on the other end is a framed copy of Michelangelo’s The Delphic Sibyl from the Sistine Chapel.
Jay (Jason Isaacs) and his wife, Gail (Martha Plimpton), arrive first. Linda (Ann Dowd) and her husband, Richard (Reed Birney), arrive, with Linda bringing a flower arrangement. They all are extremely awkward. Their insurance company arranged the meeting so that Jay and Gail can find out why Linda and Richard’s son took their gun and shot several of his classmates, including their son. Richard seems cold and Linda is solicitous, while Jay and Gail explain why they didn’t sue, why they need to forgive.
This drama is like a play, but it has so much life—both living and lost—throughout. It is about grief, forgiveness, hope, and unanswered questions. The title refers to the mass shooting, and the acting, writing, and directing are superb. This difficult conversation takes place under the gaze of Jesus, but the camera continually moves back and forth to the image of the Delphic Sibyl, a pagan prophetess believed to have foretold the coming of Christ. Grace is everywhere.
A-2 • PG-13 • Talk of mass shooting and suicide.