by John Michael McDonagh.
“Despair not, one of the thieves was spared; presume not, one of the thieves was not”
– Saint Augustine
Irishman John Michael Douglas begins his ravishing second feature film with the latter quote. ‘Calvary’ is one of those pieces of art. Those kind of films, which leave the audience silent until the final credits (and beyond); the silence steaming from individuals collecting their emotions before breathing again.
Even after watching it five times, the same powerful effect is felt from the first frame to the last. Calvary has an omnipresent underlying force encompassing a blend of everyday pain, faith, despair, humor, candor, bitterness, and forgiveness – that brands itself onto the heart with scarce simplicity. The title is a good indication as to the intensity of the film.
The brilliant moving performance by Brendan Gleeson holds the story with gentle authority mixed with darkened poetry of life lead by the death of his wife, sudden decision to become a priest in an isolated area. Dressed as a priest he faces the heavy puzzling personal struggles of the (randomly interesting) characters of the community, waves, isolation, steep hills, a suicidal daughter, a lonely damaged millionaire, a murder threat [… etc]. In essence, stripped down and silently screaming deranged, damaged and distressed nature of human beings with a touch of dark humor.
He’s performance as a priest attempting to be good in some of the most emotionally dark circumstances is as fierce as the character’s aura and charismas; it feels heartbreakingly real. Kelly Reilly (playing Brendan Gleeson’s daughter”) also delivers a flawless portrayal of an estranged daughter struggling to bring her life together.
Despite the majestic performances, its all in the frames and the story! Intricate personal battles, traumas and issues from the inhabitants of the small Island-like area they live on constitute the plot. The movie starts on a frame of Priest James during confessional being told he will be killed on the beach next Sunday. The parishioner justifies killing James with his traumatic & violent experience as a child being sexually abused by a priest. Following this opening and mood setting scene, James is waiting for his daughter at the train station; her scars from the failed suicidal attempt still visible and joked about by the two antagonists.
A myriad of intimate traumas and relationships entangled, all linked to Father James and pointing back in his direction throughout the film wraps with fierce elegance the beauty of the story, the landscapes, the people and understated poetry of the film.