Even though the Oscars are over I’ve had movies on my mind and this led me to an unlikely source for film reviews. Certainly not as well-known as Ebert and Roper or as infamous as the web’s Rotten Tomatoes, a pontifical commission was established in 1995 by Pope John Paul II to select “worthwhile productions” during the first hundred years of modern cinema. It seemed John Paul II was a film buff and wanted to acknowledge the contributions of the industry on their centenary celebration. This social conscious Pope felt that movies where a “universal medium with a profound influence on the development of people’s attitudes and choices”.
I’m not sure if Pope John Paul II would have considered this to be a catalog of his favorite movies but he did consider them important enough to include in what would come to be called the Vatican Film List, 45 chosen films selected by a committee of twelve international movie scholars appointed by the head of the pontifical commission. The list was made up of 3 categories: Art, Religion and Values with 15 films in each of the categories. Some are well known favorites like the Wizard of Oz, others are more esoteric. They run the gamut from a wide screen Western (Stagecoach) and a family classic (Little Women) to a Disney animated film (Fantasia) and a space odyssey ( 2001: A Space Odyssey).
As in any list, the selections merit attention according to the people who compile the list and you may not agree with all the choices. I certainly didn’t but I did find some interesting films I may never have known about. Also the list was complied with the sensibility and norms of the 1990’s and we may well wonder what might have been included today. There was no imprimatur or ecclesiastical approval attached to the list, no thumbs up or thumbs down, no icons of rotten or fresh tomatoes, no stars, percentages or numbered order, no hint of papal infallibility only the word “important”. Which means it is up to you decide if these are films of value. You be the critic.
The list for the 100th Anniversary of Cinema Pontifical Council for Social Communications 1995
La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) * Carl T. Dreyer (1928, France)
La vie et la passion de Jésus Christ (Life and Passion of Christ) * Ferdinand Zecca and Lucien Nonguet (1905, France Identified on the Vatican film list as La Passion Pathé
Francesco, giullare di Dio (The Flowers of St. Francis / Francis, God’s Jester) * Roberto Rossellini (1950, Italy)
Il vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to Matthew) * Pier Paolo Pasolini (1964, France/Italy)
L’albero degli zoccoli (The Tree of the Wooden Clogs) * Ermanno Olmi (1978, Italy/France)