Sunday, May 18, 2014
'The Jewish Cardinal' DVD: Exceptional Biopic of an Extraordinary Man Straddling Two Worlds
The French biopic "The Jewish Cardinal," which is being released on DVD on May 20 2014, is an excellent example of why the Film of the Month Club that Film Movement operates is uber-awesome. The (mostly foreign) indie flicks always artfully tell a universal tale worth relaying.
"Cardinal" is fascinating because it is true. The titular man in red is a Jewish Polish man who is born Aaron Lustiger but changes his name to Jean-Marie on becoming Catholic in 1940 for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons.
We meet Lustiger as priest in France nearly 40 years after he joins the Catholic church. His fellow countryman Pope John Paul II has just elevated him to the position of Arch Bishop, and Lustiger travels to the Vatican to meet his newly appointed boss.
The initial conversations between these two men are very surprising both in the pope displaying very human traits that extend beyond his well-known habit of wearing sneakers to both men spontaneously stripping off their robes for a swimming race.
The fact that even employees of far less powerful boss than the worldwide leader of the Catholic church would take a literal dive regarding such a contest creates great suspense regarding who will win this event.
It is even more unexpected that Lustiger quickly shows less-than-expected reverence toward the pope as they get to know each other and the wine begins flowing. However, this merely reflects the plan that the pope (and perhaps God) has for M. Lustiger.
The feisty Lustiger additionally creates controversy in France by asserting that he remains Jewish despite embracing the Catholic faith and establishing a career within that church. This does not sit well with a portion of the population of the faithful in his community.
A larger controversy arises regarding a convent that a group of nuns operate on the grounds of Auschwitz. This apparent insensitivity to the horrific history of that place greatly angers Jewish people, requires that Lustiger ponder the arguments on both sides of the issue, and presents the pope with a difficult public relations issue.
The interaction of strong personalities alone makes for great drama that often evokes thoughts of live-stage productions. The theological questions that the religion-based issues provide fodder for unlimited debate; and throwing in the themes related to Europe in the 1940s and the subsequent political environment on that continent further intensifies the story.
The end result of all this is that anyone who sees "Cardinal" without experiencing emotional responses to the developments and thinking about the topics simply seems to lack the spark that separates humans from other species.
The aptly named bonus short, which every Club release includes, "Kosher" is a very cute and amusing film about a friendship between a lonely Jewish boy and a pig. Needless to say, the family of the boy does not consider the relationship orthodox.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Cardinal" is welcome to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.