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Stella Days (2012)
Friday, June 22, 2012
Martin Sheen, Stephen Rea, Alan Curran, Gail Fitzpatrick, Amy Huberman, David Herlihy
Antoine O. Flatharta, Michael Doorley
A small town cinema in rural Ireland in the 1950s becomes the setting for a dramatic struggle between Rome and Hollywood, and a man and his conscience. Martin Sheen (THE WAY, THE DEPARTED, “The West Wing”) stars as Father Daniel Berry in a story about the excitement of the unknown versus the security of the familiar, as those in the town find themselves on the cusp of the modern but still clinging to the traditions of church and a cultural identity forged in very different times.
Stella Days (2012) | Review
Let There Be Light
There are many things dangerous and new on the horizon both in society and the church. This is set a few years before Vatican II. Mass is still done in Latin. (Some of the parishioners want all of Father Barry's prayers in Latin—he does it so well.) That transition between old and new—and how we react to that—is central to Stella Days.
Father Barry (played by Martin Sheen) is a bit of an outsider. He's spent twenty years teaching in America and working at the Vatican Library. He's more a scholar than a parish priest. After getting in the crossfire of Vatican politics he is exiled to rural Ireland, where he does all his duties, but longs to be back in academia. He has lived a very cosmopolitan life, and while his roots may be in Ireland, he misses modern life, especially movies. When Father Barry comes up with a plan to open a cinema in town, the stage is set for a battle of old and new, Hollywood and Rome, and faith and fear.
A key metaphor in the film is illumination. Lights are coming into homes. Movies are light and shadows cast on a screen. And we think of the Gospel as bringing light to the world. Yet for everything that brings light, there is a force that seems to prefer the darkness. Not everyone is thrilled with the coming of electric lights and ovens. Certainly not everyone is fond of Father Barry's idea of a cinema. The opposition is manifest in one of the parishioners, Brendan (Stephen Rea, who has such a wonderfully dour face), and by the Bishop, who really only cares about fund raising for new church buildings.
The battles that take place are really less about light than they are about control. Who will maintain control over the institution? A few years after this film takes place, when John XXIII calls for a new Ecumenical Council, he will say he wants "to throw open the windows of the Church." The winds of change are already blowing in the small Irish parish. Perhaps Father Barry's scholarship is already leading him to see the church in a new light that the others don't understand. But even for Father Barry, there are still issues to work out. His time and struggles in Ireland are leading to his own crisis of faith and he is beginning to contemplate the meaning of his call to the priesthood—even if he actually was called.
This was one of my favorites from the Newport Beach Film Festival earlier this year. It was one I chose with some apprehension because of the Rome vs. Hollywood theme, but I loved the way the film gave us a glimpse of the struggle that continues in all churches over the need for both change and tradition. I also have to say that Martin Sheen can play a priest as well as Barry Fitzgerald ever did—and I mean that as a compliment.
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