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Spirituality and cinema: when the Seventh Art draws close to God  

SIR’s exclusive interview with Msgr. Dario E. Viganò (SpC) and with German film director Wim Wenders protagonists at the 70th Cannes Film Festival for a dialogue on “Spiritualité et Cinéma”  

 

 

Can cinema and the arts draw us closer to God? Can cinema offer us a visible trace of His presence and of His mercy? The issue will be jointly addressed at the 70th Cannes Film Festival next May 25 by Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, Prefect of the Holy See’s Secretariat for Communication, University Professor, expert in cinema, and Wim Wenders, among the most acclaimed film directors in Europe, recipient of various prizes awarded throughout his career, starting with the Palm d’Or Award for “Paris, Texas” at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, followed by the Grand Jury Prize for “Faraway, So Close!” in 1993. Follows SIR News Agency ’s exclusive interview with the two experts a few days ahead of their departure for Cannes to attend the event promoted by the “Festival Sacré de la Beauté” (Festivalsacredelabeaute.org).

 

Mons. Viganò: a cinema and movie expert like yourself, who is also a minister of the Church, will take part in a debate with Wim Wenders, a visionary director who has delved into spiritual themes on several occasions. Can movies speak of God?
The Cannes Film Festival is among the most important international Festivals along with the Venice Film Festival, devoted to film culture. In the past 70 years these Festivals have seen the triumph of important artists, brave enough to expose themselves with daring ideas, sometimes even unpopular ones. Such examples are the latest winner, the film “I, Daniel Blake” by British director Ken Loach, bard of all those living at the margins of society, just like the Dardenne brothers, who won Cannes with the film “L’Enfant” (2005) and with “Rosetta” (1999), or like “Mission”, by Joffé, winner in 1986 or “The Tree of Wooden Glogs” by Ermanno Olmi in 1978, and, going back in time, “Miracle in Milan” by Vittorio De Sica,  in 1951. Thus the Festival can be described as a space for cultural inclusion, home to the “diakonia of beauty”. In some of my works I recurrently pointed out that cinema sought God in the folds of what is visible, confronting His presence or His deafening absence.

 

In fact, cinema is an “extroverted” gaze, that always preserves the unseen at the margins of the screen. It displays its borders prompting us – and cinema itself – to cross them. 

Unquestionably, among the past directors capable of offering significant contributions on these themes figure Bresson and Bergman, notably the latter’s “The Seventh’s Seal” (1957) that tells the story of the knight Anonius Block’s suffered, desperate quest for God. Among contemporary movies, Wenders’ poetry deserves special mention, ranging from “Wings of Desire” (1987) to “The Salt of the Earth” (2014), on the life and work of photographer Sebastião Salgado.

 

Mr. Wenders: in your long career you have described the presence of the Sublime, of God. Could you tell us about your personal and artistic approach to God’s spirituality?
It’s a challenging question. Obviously, facing one’s work, the world, and “others” in particular, is different when there one has the perception of being seen by a loving God; when that God makes himself known in every human face, in every gaze. I used to be unaware of this “responsibility”, lacking a more appropriate term, namely, of the fact that an artist can be influenced by faith, until, in 1987, I took up the project of a poetic film, that was completely improvised, like “Wings of Desire.” It’s the story of two guardian angels who keep an eye on their “protegés” in the city of Berlin. When I realised that the most important challenge of the film was to convey, to express, the Angel’s gaze at people, and to show how angels see us, I realized that that work had a special effect on me, an effect I had never experienced before.

Cinema has the power of enabling us to see the world in a different way, to make us realize that a glance of tenderness, “a loving look”, is possible.

This is true especially for “Wings of Desire.” In fact, not only did it enable us to grasp the fragments of the invisible realm, the celestial world. Thus with the privilege of hindsight it appeared that the angels that I sought and evoked in the film had imparted to me a great lesson on sight; as if the angels had revealed to me that it was totally appropriate to express “my personal and artistic approach to spirituality” – as you described it – in my work. And what a great difference did it make!

 

Mons. Viganò: as regards Wenders’ cinematography, you have often made reference to the films by the German film director, in particular to his poetic depiction of the angels in “Wings of Desire” and in “Faraway, So close!” Which stylistic and narrative features of these movies have touched you the most? And why is the figure of the angels in and for cinema so important to you?  
The angels depicted by Wim Wenders in the films “Wings of Desire” (1987) and “Faraway, So Close!” (1993) appear to be the signs of a providential, benevolent presence of the spiritual realm. I am very attached to the ways in which movies have sought to give a shape to angels, those distant from devotional trivia, those that draw origin from the Biblical text and from Dante’s poetry, or from Rainer Maria Rilke. Wenders’ angels remind us that they are light and movement, just as cinema itself, a de facto combination of light and movement. It’s probably a gift of the Divine Providence, in the history of scientific discoveries, that the name of the inventors of cinema is Lumière, which means “light”. “Nomen omen”, fate inscribed in the folds of a name.

International organizations have been voicing the wish that cinema – on par with TV and theatre, also had a patron saint. Why not angels?

Because just like angels whisper in the ear of mankind the way leading to God, it’s beautiful to consider cinema, which in fact is vision, as a remote preparation leading to the beatific vision. Saint John Paul II declared that angels are by nature spiritual creatures, “endowed with intellect and free will, like man, but in a degree superior to him, even if this is always finite because of the limit which is inherent in every creature.” Angels are part of God’s providential design, they participate in the relationship, in the communication, between God and man, a relationship that is fulfilled in Christ.

 

Mr. Wenders: you and Msgr. Viganò have known each other for many years,  could you tell us about your experience directing the opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s for the Jubilee of Mercy?  What was it like to work with the Vatican Television Centre? Finally, did you have the opportunity of meeting with Pope Francis?
The Vatican Television Centre is unquestionably an extraordinary reality. I must admit that seeing Stefano D’Agostini directing this great machine with 20 video-cameras on the occasion of the opening of the Holy Door was a beautiful experience for me. I had a simple role within the complex live streaming of the ceremony, that I participated in and assisted to thanks to the invitation of Father Dario. Indeed, I’ve been friends with Fr Dario for many years. I am impressed by his scholarly knowledge of film and cinema (which obviously is not his most important office, which is that of Prefect of the Secretariat for Communication). Indeed, I met Pope Francis. But probably I will discuss it with Fr Dario on the occasion of the round table at Cannes’ Film Festival, in the framework of the “Festival Sacré de la Beauté”.

 

(*) National Commission for film evaluation of the Italian Bishops’ Conference

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