Wednesday 2 August 2006

Molokai: The Story of Father Damien by: Paul Cox

Molokai: The Story of Father Damien
Paul Cox
Vision Video

Molokai is a film that achieved a fair level of success and popularity at the film festivals around the world. The film was a surprise on many levels, especially because when it was first released Molokai was immediately shelved in North American markets under the assumption of distributors that these audiences would not want to watch a film about a man who served as a priest in a leper colony until his own death of the disease.

Paul Cox, who directed the film, is known as Australia’s Atom Egoyan. Most of his films have weird twists that throw the audience. Now available on DVD in Canada, this film is a powerful and moving story on the level of The Mission with Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro. A story of the triumph of human nature, Molokai is closely based on a true story.

This film is a biography of Father Damien, the Catholic priest who in 1873
volunteered for service on the Hawaiian leper colony of Molokai. For 15 years Damien ministered nearly single-handedly to the quarantined community, supplying what medication he could procure while struggling against the red tape from organizations (religious and governmental) that would rather have forgotten all about the thousands of people dying in primitive conditions on the Island of Molokai. He won some battles and lost others, finally succumbing to the disease himself in 1888.

The films earnestness led to the who's-who supporting cast (Sam Neill, Derek Jacobi, Peter O'Toole, Leo McKern, Kate Ceberano and Kris Kristofferson), but it is David Wenham who must carry the film as Damien, which he does spectacularly and with a touching humility, but with the spirit to fight for those he serves, in the midst of such conflict.

Director Paul Cox was inspired in his choices of choosing scenes to highlight 15 years in a single film not two hours long. He uses amazing cinematographic tools to convey the story and the passage of time, a tree stand planted by Damien, the many construction projects he carries out, and watching ‘Little Bishop’ grow up and pass away. Pay particular attention to the music, and the use of the sound of the wind as the film progresses.

This is a story of faith and of service. If you want a film that will challenge your spirit and cause you to examine your own life in the light of the service given by others you could not pick a better film.

The Toronto Globe and Mail stated about the film “A Triumph of the Human Spirit!” But though this film did well at the film festivals it had little or no mainstream release in North America.

As such the DVD is left to stand on the power of the life story told and the cinematography and power of Cox’s direction. The only special feature on the DVD is the making of documentary with interviews of cast and crew, and the Samoans who played the roles of some of their own ancestors.

This standalone documentary on the film more than justifies the purchase of the DVD. Many of the older cast - Kris Kristofferson, Sam Neill and Peter O'Toole - speak of their experience in interacting with this story and knowing it from childhood. Watching them in costume on the windswept shore of Molokai speak about Damien one can not help be see Damien’s own contemporaries, who were buried around him on the piece of rock.

Though not a happy story - not a story of success or a story of achievement, Molokai is a story of service and love and dedication that cannot help but touch your heart.

(First Published in Imprint 2006-07-28 as ‘Don’t let leprosy deter you from Molokai’.)
Note: Yes I wrote a different review of this movie earlier, this is a new review of it recently published.

Reviews of Books and Movies about Saint Damien:
Apostle of the Exiled St. Damien of Molokai - Margaret Bunson & Matthew Bunson
Pilgrimage and Exile: Mother Marianne of Molokai by: Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, O.S.F.
Molokai: The Story of Father Damien by: Paul Cox
Molokai: The Story of Father Damien
Saint Damien of Molokai - Virginia Helen Richards and D. Thomas Halpin
Father Damien de Veuster Apostle to the Lepers - Glynn MacNiven-Johnston
The Life and Letters of Father Damien, Apostle of the Lepers - Edited by Pamphile De Veuster 
Father Damien's Letters

Prayer of the Day - Saint Damien Prayer

No comments: