Lent and Pasolini

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If I may rehash a film cliche: what can a gay Marxist atheist anticlerical football fan teach us about Lent? Well, quite a lot actually.

I have to admire Pier Paolo Pasolini whose range of subjects is pretty remarkable. His so called ‘Trilogy of Life’ is near the knuckle but amazingly evocative of those ages and places that it wishes to depict: medieval England and Italy and the timeless exoticism of Arabia. His gross and grotesque Salo is in its deeply unpleasant way a serious film. Given its inspiration and setting, if it was remade today it would be called Raqqa.

The man had a distinctive cinematic style, and like his fellow Italian Sergio Leone, he was an absolute master of the human face. The most ordinary of people become gripping subjects instantly. Emotion is routinely underplayed, and is the more powerful because of it.

When it comes to Lent, the key is his remarkably pure and beautiful Gospel According to St Matthew (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). At a stroke Pasolini went from being in trouble with the Church and others for Accatone and Ro.Go.Pa.G to being justifiably feted by the Vatican for this movie, described in 2014 by L’Osservatore Romano as “…the best work about Jesus in the history of cinema”, although when it came out 50 years earlier, some of the church old guard had struggled with the idea that Pasolini could do this in all sincerity. But he did.

Why specifically Lent, given that the movie tells the story of the whole of St Matthew’s Gospel? The answer lies in Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, praying and fasting, which is the most recent and most striking of the various allusions in scripture to Lent as we know it today. There he is tempted by Satan, and dismisses him with pointed references to the Old Testament.

In this film Pasolini typically used a lot of locals with no acting pedigree. He scattered in various acquaintances from his intellectual salon, and also his own mother. The locals are from Crotone, Matera, and Massafra, which is that primitive part of Southern Italy that stands in for ancient Palestine – totally convincingly. However, the desert sequence was filmed on Mount Etna, and it works brilliantly. The emptiness interrupted by the distant figure of Satan, walking purposefully towards Jesus, the dust billowing in his wake resembling, possibly intentionally,  sulphurous fumes. Satan himself is startling and charismatic, portrayed in the most understated way yet brimming with both evil and, one senses, confusion. Weirdly, this is the one main actor in the film who goes uncredited, as far as I can ascertain.

Other people find other scenes more compelling, but this desert sequence does it for me. Pasolini moved on to other things, some mentioned at the start, and got himself disapproved of again. However, he never disavowed his fascination with Christ and his teaching, seeing it in terms of its superficial similarities to socialism and more convincingly,  Jesus as a revolutionary, of a unique kind. He often mused on this paradox: “I am anticlerical (I’m not afraid to say it!)… but it would be insane on my part to deny the powerful influence religion has exerted on me”….“I do not believe that Christ was the Son of God, because I am not a believer—at least not consciously.”

Which is fair enough. But this man of contradictions was also anti-drugs, anti-establishment and remarkably, completely anti-abortion. This is from when he opposed the legalisation of abortion in Italy in 1975: “I am however shocked at the idea of legalizing abortion, because, as many others, I consider it a legalization of homicide. In my dreams and in my everyday behaviour – an attitude common to all human beings – I live my prenatal life, my being happily immersed in the waters: I know that I existed then. I will stop here, because I have more urgent things to say on abortion. That life is sacred is an obvious thing: it is a principle even stronger than any principle of democracy, and it is useless to repeat it.”

He also portrayed the actuality of hell in one scene from The Canterbury Tales, in a mind blowing mix of Hieronymus Bosch, the Carry On movies and Dante’s Inferno. One thing he gets right, based on the popular imagination, is the deafening, screeching noise of hell.

Having said that, the real Satan, who affects us all, is the one in the desert.

Great landscapes: Bruegel

thewaytocalvary

Most landscapes don’t contain around 500 identifiable people, but this landscape is different, on many levels. It has a lot in common with one I blogged about several years ago, the extraordinary and beautiful Magpie on the Gallows. Bruegel’s The Way to Calvary is one of the many Netherlandish masterworks in Vienna’s mind bogglingly good Kunsthistorisches Museum. It is now 452 years since it was painted.

This one exerts a strange effect on people. It is the sole subject of one of the best art monographs you could ever read,  Michael Gibson’s The Mill and the Cross (1, 2) Gibson is an exceptionally clear and unstuffy writer, who is a brilliant analyst of a painting – and the associated history. He had unprecedented access to the painting from the enlightened gallery curators. He has spent literally hours poring over the painting, and his book allows you to do that too.

The painting has numerous subtexts related to Netherlandish folklore, peasant life, and running through it, the hardcore cruelty of the Spanish control of the Netherlands, exerted by the fearsome Duke of Alba on behalf of Philip II. They’re his men riding across the centre of the picture. As so often with Bruegel, the theme is one thing  – Calvary is tiny, in the top right, Jesus is barely noticeable at first, in the dead centre – the overall composition is another. Like Bosch and Patinir, he was a master of the far off blue distances, and the detailed smaller scenes such as the towns and buildings (top left). Gibson makes the point that there are three circles – Calvary, the town (incomplete), and the main central one of the procession and associated hangers on, which seems to revolve around the axis of the upright mill on the extraordinary crag, which may or may not be a visual metaphor for God’s role in all this. Charles Bouleau, who wrote a great book on the topic in 1963, The Painter’s Secret Geometry: A Study of Composition in Art, would have a field day with it all. To give a flavour of that I’ve added Gibson’s three circles, the diagonals at the intersection of which is Christ, the three ‘landscape layers’ of foreground, middle and distance, and the most obvious verticals. There are three very similar irregular shapes – the front left rock, the mill with the rock and trees at its base, and Mary with her companions, front right.  Bouleau would have found more spatial relationships, no doubt. There is nothing accidental in the composition.

thewaytocalvary2
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Amazingly, the story and composition of the painting became a film in 2011, with Rutger Hauer doing an unsurpassable turn as Bruegel. It is genuinely mesmerising, and got terrific reviews (1,2,3), particularly for an ‘art film’. When Russ Meyer’s buddy Roger Ebert is enthralled then you know you’ve struck a chord. Gibson co-wrote it with the Polish director Majewski, and it effortlessly recreates the Middle Ages like Borowcyk’s Blanche or Pasolini’s Canterbury Tales. Not easy to accomplish, as it’s mostly about mood and authenticity. The whole film is occasionally available on YouTube, here’s the trailer:

Celebrity death match: the Queen v Blair

The Queen has done us another unexpected favour, via journalist Iain Martin at CapX. He has provided in one paragraph a neat summary of the unique awfulness of the Blair years’ cultural mood (traces of which remain). I would normally use the joint worst film ever made, Love Actually, to provide the necessary snapshot of the era, but here is the paragraph. You probably had to be there to fully appreciate how awful it all was:

For all that the Queen has provided continuity, she has been extremely canny in the manner in which she has adapted to change. In the last quarter of a century, no British institution or profession has been untainted by scandal. Parliament, the press, the police, the BBC, the armed forces, the City, bankers and sporting stars have all been badly burned at various points, as that decline of deference turned into full-blown disaffection with the behaviour of elites. In the scandal stakes, the monarchy got there first in the 1990s, from the events surrounding the divorce of the Prince of Wales to the death of Princess Diana, when even some of the monarchy’s supporters accused the Queen of hard-heartedness and inflexibility. But in a tight spot, the monarchy executed a pivot rather brilliantly while looking slow-moving and reliant on others. The masters of spin and marketing descended to “rescue” the Queen following the death of Diana. Afterwards, the Blairites swaggered about. They had prevented a potential revolution when public feeling spilled over into outright mania. They had saved the stuffy old Queen (who during the madness was doing the best thing possible of caring for her bereaved grandsons in the tranquility of the Scottish Highlands). Under pressure, she was forced back to London by the mob and politicians responding to the mob. And the two boys, just young boys, were paraded in front of the mob outside Kensington Palace, where there was a mountain of flowers, so that the mob – which had so fetishised emoting on demand and “caring” that it could not see the cruelty in what it was demanding – could gawp. This was all done in the name of modernity, but 18 years later the Queen is still reigning, magnificently. Where are the bright, modern Blairites and their hero now? In the dustbin of history.

In a separate cinematic reference, the kind of milking the public that Martin describes is reminiscent of the quote from Gracchus, in Gladiator:

I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they’ll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they’ll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate, it’s the sand of the coliseum. He’ll bring them death – and they will love him for it.

Possibly a link with the utterly daft invasion of Iraq there. If Labour hadn’t got the push in 2010, God knows what mob-friendly schemes they might have come up with, though I reckon the incompetent crowd pleasers of the SNP may yet show us.

The Queen, out for a stroll
The Queen, out for a stroll

Monks: “Take me, cowl’d forms, and fence me round, Till I possess my soul again”**

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A few years ago I attended a charity ball to raise money for our hospital’s A&E service. One female guest got drunk early and insisted on showing off her thong to everyone,  generally being in your face and irritating. It wasn’t as much fun as it might sound. We all sat down to eat, she buttonholed me and loudly demanded to know “if you hadn’t done medicine, what would you have done?”

An interesting question, not least because I fluked my way in to medical school, really. Everyone at the table was waiting for the answer, so after a moment’s thought I said “a monk”. Which kind of killed it dead really. At the mention of religion a lot of people tend to get a bit shifty and move on, at least in a public settting. The thing is, notwithstanding the fact that I had already acquired a beautiful wife, it was kind of true.

Monks and monasteries do fascinate me, a phrase which even as I write it seems unbearably superficial, considering the subject matter. There is a certain interest in the Buddhist version, but it’s the real deal Catholic orders that I’m talking about. I’m not the only one. One of the finest short books you could read is the now deceased (at 96) Patrick Leigh Fermor’s wonderful A Time to Keep Silence. PLF was neither religious nor Catholic, but in his postwar European wanderings he ended up staying at various monasteries for long periods. He beautifully describes the invisible transition between the initial aridity and boredom to peace, insight and happiness. It’s a magnificent book.

More recently, there have been two films, both highly acclaimed, about the austere contemplative orders. Of Gods and Men is the dramatisation of the true events of 1996 when French Cistercian Trappists in Algeria were murdered, possibly by Islamic militants. It got extraordinarily good reviews and narrowly missed the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Why would a Catholic monastery even  exist high in the mountains of a Muslim North African country?  The unique Into Great Silence is a documentary, without narration, about life at the Carthusian monastery in the Grenoble Alps, La Grande Chartreuse. Not a promising description, you might think, but its hypnotic patient rhythm draws you in. The monastery and its setting are stunning, and it’s off limits to visitors, making the film even more compelling. Read the reviews. These monks are serious, impressive people. It’s not untypical that after requesting the opportunity to make the film, the director Philip Groning got his answer – 16 years later.

Cistercian austerity commingles with vogueish minimalist architecture in the hands of the very gifted and successful John Pawson, one of the great European architects. Pawson rightly lauds the simple magnificence of Cistercian monasteries over hundreds of years. His work on a new monastery in Bohemia, the Abbey of Our Lady of Novy Dvur, is breathtaking.  These monks do not live in the past. Their world is in fact, timeless.

And, of course, monks make the finest beer, which is also the most sought after.

These films, articles and visible signs of monastic life and activity are one thing, but how to sum up the essence of being a monk, to understand their reasons, their essence, is very difficult, and almost impossible if you cannot empathise with their religious belief. The Irish journalist John Waters, in a superb piece last month from the Trappist monastery of Mount Melleray put it as well as anyone can. I quote extensively from his very moving work below.

These men, I find myself thinking, are at the opposite point of human possibility to everything we take for granted as true and real. They bear witness to the strangeness of being, reminding us of this structural peculiarity of reality without any hint of moralism or rancour. ‘Look how odd the world really is!’ they seem to exclaim. ‘Don’t become too distracted by anything, for then you will miss this strangeness!’ Doggedly, they stand in silent contemplation as the world beckons them, mocks them, stares at them in puzzlement. They smile, or look away shyly. But they stay. They know why they are here.

More than once, I found myself wondering how it would feel to be here on, say, my 12,367th morning. It seems unconscionable. I cannot conceive of a degree of certitude that would enable me to do it. Even from the little I have learned about the lives of these men, I understand but vaguely how they see things. I know I am imposing my own ideas on a reality I but look into as into a passing canal barge.

There are aspects of the monkish life that recommend themselves to me: the predictability and weightlessness. But I am old enough to know that this is just a part of my psyche crying out for things no longer accessible in the great outdoors. I see through myself and know that I want these things in addition to the life I now have, which is not quite the deal the monk signs up to.

I look around the faces of these good men. I wonder if they ever have such thoughts. Does the trickle of news from the outside ever bring them to a point of doubt in themselves? Does their inevitable knowledge of the incomprehension of the external world cause them to feel even a hint of the restlessness I’m feeling now? Only the return of the Saviour, it strikes me, could adequately justify what these men have committed of themselves. And, what, I find myself briefly wondering, if He has no plans to come back? Where would that leave these great men and what they have made of their lives? I shudder at the implications of the question and delve back into the psalm to suppress the sense of absurdity that threatens to engulf me.

But then another thought overcomes the first: I am standing observing the dying breaths of pure Irish Christianity, and what the future holds for a world without men like this is infinitely more disturbing than any fleeting chill I may be feeling on their behalf.

The brief stab of absurdity I have experienced in this setting stands to become a chronic condition in a society in which there are no longer men and women prepared to live in this way. It strikes me forcibly that, even if we are barely aware of their existences – even if we scorn their sacrifices – the silent prayerful presence of these men here is somehow vital to our very human continuance. I don’t mean just that they pray for us, but that the sense they give us of something to be believed in so unconditionally – that, even as we scoff, this somehow allows us to continue inhabiting what we think of as the ‘real’ world, in much the way that we once partied all night, knowing that our staid parents slept fitfully at home, hoping we would make it back safe with the dawn.

It hits me like a train that, in a future without these monks at our backs, everything will seem as absurd as the moment I have just experienced as a spasm of sadness and affection.

In Father Columban Heaney’s booklet, there is the following startling passage: “The human person is really a metaphysical misfit in the world. He was not made for it and cannot find total fulfillment in it. Hence, he is a frustrated creature in this world; this can be taken as a definition of man. Monks and nuns are people who accept this definition of themselves and live accordingly. They know that they have no lasting city here on earth, so they turn to the desert where they hope to meet God and can begin to find part of that ultimate happiness for which they long.”

This is the truth of us all, whether we can face it or not. Without this clue as to the ultimate nature of reality, we are headed nowhere rather than somewhere, no matter how determined our step. Without such as these monks to remind us, all sense of an ultimate meaningfulness would leech away, leaving us with our baubles and the debris of our emptied hopes, cold-sweating in the face of another pointless and pitiless dawn.

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** from Matthew Arnold’s striking poem Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse, 1855

 

 

 

Great Landscapes: Francois Boucher

François Boucher. Landscape with a Hermit. 1742.The  Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow
François Boucher. Landscape with a Hermit. 1742.The Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow

This landscape tells a story.  Derived in part from The Decameron, subject of one of Pasolini‘s slightly dodgy medieval films, the hermit is Frere Luce, revered (incorrectly) for his holiness. One of his few neighbours is a widow with a beautiful daughter. The hermit behaves badly by advising the widow, through a subterfuge, that the daughter must become his ‘companion’ by divine decree, in order to give birth to a great pope of the future. All goes according to the nefarious plan, until the baby is born – a girl.

That story aside, I love this painting for the detail – such as the tiny belfry on the hermit’s hut – and the generally magical air. So many of Boucher’s works were effectively portraiture, but his landscapes are all terrific.

 

Beware of ‘modern classics’ and good reviews

Basically rubbish, unfortunately
Basically rubbish, unfortunately

If you read the bad reviews on Amazon, they frequently end up with something along the lines of ‘..so I gave up about halfway through’. The Knife is averse to doing that, but by my calculations – if I live long enough – I’ve got no more than 800-900 books left to me, and it’s a bit of a waste to spend time on something that’s going nowhere.

Which is how I felt for much of the time when battling through Saul Bellow‘s alleged masterpiece, Herzog.  It is emphatically no longer the great book that it might have seemed to be, when it was published in 1964.  This is Woody Allen without the jokes, a solipsistic ramble through an American Jewish man’s midlife crisis, and as such has spawned a whole genre of self indulgent novels about nothing in particular. Bellow has some neat turns of phrase, but they don’t balance out the sheer hard work of getting to the end of 346 pages. Compared to another American existentialist novel from the same era (1961), Walker Percy‘s very fine The Moviegoer, it’s night and day.

This recent experience made me reflect on just how often I’ve felt ambushed by believing good reviews, or more often, wild acclaim. It began in 1981 when I worked in a record shop. If you were at the till you got to choose what was played in the shop, so I put on U2’s Boy. About 10 minutes in I realised that it was basically shite (to use the local dialect), and that seems to fit with everything they’ve produced since, despite wild acclaim etc.  Another classic example would be the solo works of John Lennon (and most of his Beatles stuff too).

Similarly with films. After about 30 minutes of Reservoir Dogs it became obvious that the hype was just that. A terrible movie of actors enjoying playing, embarrassingly, with guns. I know that description might fit quite a few films, but everyone seemd to be raving about it. Nearly all of Tarantino’s stuff is just as bad. Or the worst film ever made (copyright The Knife), which by coincidence  is on tonight, Love Actually.

Classical music has a long list of overpraised bores: Sir Simon Rattle, Paul Lewis, Alfred Brendel, Evelyn Glennie, to name a few. You can waste a lot of money believing the kind of reviews that these people tend to get. A good clue is often yet another regurgitation of the standard repertoire – I think Brendel has recorded the Beethoven concerti about four times. Pointless.

There’s no easy answer to this, but in order to save any passing reader some money, and quite a few hours of their life, avoid all those mentioned above, and for extras, don’t bother with: any ‘serious’ book or film that claims to be about sex; any rock music recorded by someone over the age of 50, or possibly 40;  any film with Sean Penn in it; anything involving a British comedian (or more accurately, “comedian”); almost any stage play, unless you genuinely ‘get’ Shakespeare; any singer-songwriter since about 1990; anything at all that might have any connection with or endorsement by Stephen Fry. The list keeps growing.

Trust me.

The Ten WORST Films of All Time.

The Telegraph‘s film critic, Robbie Collin, has just published his 10 greatest movies. Here they are:

Sunrise – Murnau, 1927
Bicycle
 Thieves – De Sica, 1948
Singin’ In The Rain
 – Donen/Kelly, 1952
Ugetsu Monogatari
 (Tales of Moonlight and Rain) – Mizoguchi, 1953
Les Vacances de M. Hulot
 (Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday) – Tati, 1953
Harakiri
 – Kobayashi, 1962
Persona
 – Bergman, 1966
Back To The Future
 – Zemeckis, 1985
My Neighbour Totoro
 – Miyazaki, 1988
There Will Be Blood
 – Anderson, 2007

To my shame, I’ve only seen two of them, you can probably guess which, and I like to think I’m pretty switched on cinema-wise. Though clearly not.

To Collin’s credit, he goes out of his way to avoid cliched choices, like Citizen Kane and Casablanca, so I would accept that he’s not being a windbag – he probably does rate them all (Back To The Future??). The following comments section is stuffed with other people’s lists, some of them quite interesting.

I sort of have my own top ten, but it occurred to me that a bottom ten would be more fun, and my contribution to Dave’s Big Society. These are not the arch clever clever “so bad it’s good” group, they’re just shite. In no order – they’re all appalling – here we go:

1. Love Actually

…die!!

2. Reservoir Dogs

3. Life of Brian

4. Peter’s Friends

5. Any Harry Potter

6. Gandhi

7.An Inconvenient Truth

8. Hostel 2

9. The Cat in The Hat

10. Patch Adams (this is so uniquely dreadful it probably merits its own category. Dante would have made watching this his 10th circle of Hell)

Yes, I know, they’re weighted to being British and fairly contemporary, but I’m confident that these megaturkies will stand the test of time as being unremittingly crap. And if this post saves one person from the horrors of Love Actually or Patch Adams, then my work on this earth is complete.

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…beyond hateable

Hell

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Famously, Jean-Paul Sartre said that hell is other people. L’enfer, c’est les autres. His explanation however was a bit more prosaic than you might infer from the memorable phrase.

Christian theology, promulgated by Thomas Aquinas, technically sees hell as a state of existence rather than a place, as

“Incorporeal things are not in place after a manner known and familiar to us, in which way we say that bodies are properly in place; but they are in place after a manner befitting spiritual substances, a manner that cannot be fully manifest to us.”

Fair enough, it sort of fits with the truism that mental anguish is so often worse than physical pain, an observation most doctors will have made at some point in their careers. Hence:

In a theological sense however, hell is something else: it is the ultimate consequence of sin itself, which turns against the person who committed it. It is the state of those who definitively reject the Father’s mercy, even at the last moment of their life….Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice for ever. God’s judgement ratifies this state.

This preamble is the context before coming to the more common conception of hell as a bleak and violent place of endless physical suffering, run by hordes of textbook demons. The kind of imagery conjured up by Dante in the first book of The Divine Comedy: Inferno. Dante’s vision, which is 700 years old has pretty much informed the whole gamut of Western art’s depiction of hell and damnation. Quite an influential work, all things considered.

The Knife first read it in the Carey translation, illustrated by Dore’s brilliance, by a swimming pool at the Ocean Palace Hotel in Tenerife, which was actually nearer to Sartre’s definition.

Which brings me to a piece of typical 21st century stupidity, first highlighted to me by the estimable Taki  in The Spectator:

..a human rights organisation that advises the UN on issues of racism and discrimination wants to do away with a book by one Dante Alighieri called the Divine Comedy. Bad Dante, bigoted Dante! He represents Islam as a heresy and Jews as greedy and scheming moneylenders. Homosexuals are damned by the bully Dante as being against nature. The spokeswoman (dread word) and president of this outfit, one Valentina Sereni, wants the book removed from school and university curricula. She calls the epic poem racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic. She covered all the bases so at least we know where we stand if we read the Divine Comedy. It means we are homophobes, anti-Semites, hate Islam and want to kill all black people.

As the Independent’s John Walsh pointed out, on the back of all this:

But we know what these “human rights” people are up to, don’t we? They don’t give two hoots about the supposed racist or homophobic or anti-Semitic content. They’re terrified of Islam. They’re scared that, if a single prickly Muslim objects to the portrayal of the Prophet, Italian schools would soon have a jihadist inferno on their hands. Their declaration is a pre-emptive strike against potential nutters. They say they worry students may not have sufficient “filters” to appreciate the historical context; I suspect they worry that Muslims may not have enough.

In fact, Dante’s poem owes a good deal to Muslim religious writing, especially Isra and Miraj, about Mohamed’s night-time journey to heaven, and the Risalat al-Ghufran, about a poet’s wanderings in the afterlife. In Dante’s lifetime, there was lots of contact between West and East, much productive traffic between Christian and Sufi mystics. Might it be better for Gherush92 to suggest that students were taught the connections between Islamic and Western philosophy, than trying to emphasise their differences and hide Italy’s greatest literary masterpiece because they’re frightened of upsetting a gang of extremists?

Idiots like Ms Sereni will always be with us, and paradoxically are likely to encourage more people to read Dante, particularly in a country which produced the sublime Oriana Fallaci and her fantastic polemic The Rage and the Pride.

There are currently well over twenty different translations of Inferno on Amazon, many of them recent. There must be something beyond academic interest that makes a medieval poem so popular in these secular times, even with the  jaded decadence of the politically correct apparently so dominant.

Anyway, even if hell is a state of being, rather than a physical reality, the most striking visual expression of it that I’ve seen outside of a Bosch painting is here, the ending of Pasolini’s  mindbending Canterbury Tales. Not for the faint hearted.

the ninth circle

The redemption movie (2). Clint’s classic: Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood is a remarkable man. He  plays piano, loves jazz, has 5 Oscars, does politics, directs, produces and acts. He has been in great movies for more than 40 years, and his repertoire is probably the widest in Hollywood. Comedy, no problem; action movies, lots; biopics, westerns, romances – it’s all there.

However, Gran Torino, in some ways, sees him hit a new peak.  Not to give away all the plot, it is a genuinely deep and moving reflection on old age, death, and doing the right thing. Clint has mastered the paradox of combatting racism while utilising casual racist language and attitudes – an occasional  theme in a number of his movies.

Somewhat surprisingly he also introduced a clear Catholic ethos in Gran Torino, and previously in Million Dollar Baby, culminating in a specifically Christ-like allusion at the end.

The acting is uniformly superb. The direction is sparse and economical. The plot is that rarity – a proper story with a beginning, middle and end. It rejects cliche and has a genuine moving twist. Not many films leave you thinking deeply on the big existential issues. This one does. Triumphantly.

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