Melbourne, March, 21st, 2018 (Peter Malone).

France, 2018, 107 minutes, Colour.

Anthony Bajon, Damien Chappelle, Alex Brendemuhl, Louise Grinberg, Hanna Schygulla, Antoine Amblard.

Directed by Cedric Kahn.

La Priere/The Prayer merits a SIGNIS Statement because of its treatment of Catholic themes.

In fact, it seems a film with Catholic themes more suited to the contemporary church in many places, not focusing on traditional practices and doctrines and beliefs, the Catholic Church in a secular world and in dialogue with this secular world.

Cedric Kahn, the director, stated that he is agnostic but he has some respect for the transcendent.

The plot concerns a young man, a drug addict, suicidal, who is taken to a rehabilitation centre in the mountains, a Catholic rehabilitation centre founded 30 years earlier by social-minded nun (played in the film by Hannna Schygulla). While there is a priest at the centre, it is a lay-run centre, modelled on contemplative monasteries with their ethos of work and prayer. It is former addicts who form the staff, exercise disciplinary authority, serve as the carers. (There is a neighbouring centre with the founding nun some distance away from the men’s centre.)

The image of the church that the film communicates is very much that of service and solidarity, and justice response to problems in the modern world, the need for affirmation, care, and hope through rehabilitation.

The young men are seen doing a lot of work in the fields. They are also seen at prayer in the Chapel as well as the Eucharistic celebration. There are traditional hymns, sacred music in the background. There are also enthusiastic popular gospel hymns, sung with great zest.

The filmmakers obviously believe in the power of reflective silence, some contemplation, finding one’s own capacity for prayer whether it be in the gospel tradition, in other traditions, in reflection.

As regards the priest, while his seen at the celebration of the Eucharist, when there is a gathering of visitors in the summer and they all sit down at outdoor tables, he quietly comes in, wearing his clerical collar but sits unobtrusively at one of the tables. The more significant scene where he appears is in the discussion with the young man who has had his ups and downs over the months at the centre, initially resentful and refusing to cooperate, touched by some of those who look after him, running away but encouraged to return by the daughter of a couple who run a farm near the centre, settling down, actually learning all the Psalms by heart and able to recite them, becoming more devout.

When the group goes on a mountain hike and he is left straggling behind, caught in the snow and frozen, stranded on the mountain overnight, praying to survive, he believes that he should enter the seminary and serve God there. The discussion between him and the priest is very interesting (and a vocation is counsellor would shout out from their seat in the cinema that he really should do a lot more preparation and thought). The priest goes through the young man’s reasons, testing them, commenting on his faith experience, on the repercussions of his being lost in the mountains but found again.

There is a great deal of respect for the church in its contribution to healing, on the power and beauty of prayer, of work, and of social justice service as well is its sense of solidarity throughout the film. When the film was screened in competition at the Berlinale, the organisers programmed it for 9.00 am on the Sunday morning!