July 10, 2014


The 2013 film (now on DVD and Netflix) "The Jewish Cardinal" is the life of the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger who died in 2007. May I say that this is the most tastefully, smartly irreverent life of a prelate ever on film? Jewish filmmaker, Ilan Duran Cohen, gets both Judaism and Catholicism (not an easy feat) and presents them with depth and sans one-dimensional cheesiness.

I was well aware of Lustiger while he was alive (and even have one of his books unread on my bookshelves), but didn't really know much about his story. It has been a pleasure getting to know this brilliant, hot-headed, chain-smoking (hey, he's French) cleric whom John Paul II chose to be Paris' Archbishop and then Cardinal, specifically because he wasn't "a doormat." When Lustiger wanted to know whether he was chosen simply because he was a "prized" convert, the pope makes it clear that he is expecting Lustiger to restore Jesus to his rightful place in a France that has lost its faith.

Whoa. I remember so distinctly John Paul II visiting France early on in his papacy and berating the French rather forcefully: "France, eldest daughter of the Church! What have you done with your baptism?!" Papa could really lay it down when he had to. Lustiger and Wojtyla's destinies are so intertwined in this film--as in life--and the actor who plays John Paul II really mastered the man, especially his mischievousness. Lots of chuckles.

"The Jewish Cardinal" is a bit of a recent history primer of sorts as well: the polarized Church in France, Poland and the Holocaust, Communism in Eastern Europe. I brushed up on my own knowledge of these areas, sharpened my understanding and learned many interesting facts: Kaddish was said for Lustiger on the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral before his funeral! The film slowly reveals to us (good storytelling) why Lustiger converted. We also learn that his mother was murdered at Auschwitz. One of his many dilemmas in life is being Jewish AND Christian, with neither "side" seeming to fully accept him or his preferred dual-identity.

This life of Lustiger is good filmmaking in general, and in particular, showcases how you make a film about an interesting Church figure with realism, honesty, passion and transparency, and without boring deference, doctrinairiness, plasticity and sanctimony. The dialogue is on fire (as was Lustiger, it seems)! The story moves along and proffers as much action as it possibly can in a story like this.

The film "gets" so many things, including male friendships, European male friendships, religious European male friendships, religious European male friendships based on high ideals and nobly working for the good of millions of people. Wojtyla and Lustiger thoroughly needed, relied and leaned on one another.

The film never portrays Lustiger or Wojtyla as idealogues, but as flawed-yet-virtuous, dynamic-yet-conflicted, larger-than-life yet always the flesh-and-blood men of God they were. And the world is better off because of them. And the world is better off with this triumph of a film! WATCH IT.


--Female screenwriter! Female screenwriter! 

--The sweet name of JESUS is used more in this film than in many Catholic films, documentaries, and talking head teaching videos.

--Yes, there are English subtitles, but in the FILM (not trailer you see above) they are done so incredibly well, not hanging down the bottom of the screen but a little higher. They are in yellow Courier font with a kind of translucent black background, and well, I just hope this is the new trend in subtitles.

--There's a HILARIOUS conversation between Wojtyla and Lustiger about European intellectuals at Castel Gandolfo. Hilarious.

--Our "cousin" congregation, the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master (liturgical apostolate Sisters founded by Fr. Alberione) have a cameo at 22:52! Lustiger buys something in their Rome shop.

--I will ALWAYS envy Jewish converts as having "the best of both worlds." (Even though I know it is very, very difficult for them.)

--The filmmakers did their homework. Profound homework.

--Fascinating piece on JP2 helping Lustiger grasp the importance of using THE MEDIA.

--This film truly crawls inside the mind of John Paul II. Boom. Bingo. Bullseye.
W: "The Church is neither left nor right. It is about the Gospel. The Gospel must unite us."
L: "But you have made your papacy about human rights!"
W: "The Gospel is about human rights. We need to get back to basics and things will change, you'll see. We live in an age of communications. We must use the power of the TV, the news media!"

--Search for Lustiger's books on Amazon!

1 comment:

  1. The movie sounds wonderful, but I'm just glad to learn about this interesting man. I'll have to read up on him. Thanks!