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Fest or famine?

By PETER KEOUGH  |  September 8, 2006

Saints involves wallowing in misogyny, and there’s plenty more of that in Tony Goldwyn’s THE LAST KISS (September 12, 7:30 pm, with the director), which, based on a screenplay by Paul Haggis (Crash), follows the romantic misfortunes of a group of buddies. Michael (Zach Braff) has the perfect fiancée, so why does he sneak around when she gets pregnant? Maybe he’s scared off by the plight of Chris (Casey Affleck), whose wife has treated him like shit since their child was born. Maybe he’s inspired by the example of Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen), who’s got a new woman every night. Whatever the reason, he learns his lesson: women are ballbreakers, so curl up like a dog and take it.

Such an attitude conjures the specter of violence against women, something Mia Goldman confronts in THE OPEN WINDOW (September 10, 7:30 pm, with the director and stars Robin Tunney and Elliott Gould; also September 11, 3 pm). Another blissful engaged couple, Peter (Joel Edgerton) and Izzy (Robin Tunney), encounter evil when a creep climbs into Izzy’s studio. Few films have as accurately re-created the rage, despair, and self-destructiveness such victimization causes. It’s not pleasant viewing, but it is illuminating, despite the glib resolution.

Not only do women filmmakers dominate this festival, but an unflinching honesty marks their movies. Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady’s documentary JESUS CAMP (September 9, 7 pm, with the directors) opens with an alarming image: tykes in war paint and camie uniforms assaulting an audience in the name of Jesus. It calls to mind indoctrinated children in Palestinian refugee camps vowing martyrdom, a comparison Becky Fisher, the director of the title retreat, embraces.

Such images, and those of kids weeping and contorted in ecstasy, vowing to wage war against “godless government,” speak for themselves. But the filmmakers stack the deck by inserting the on-the-air commentary of an Air America talk-show host, and they include confrontations that seem staged and undermine the credibility of their otherwise powerful effort.

Still, it’s good preparation for Amy Berg’s DELIVER US FROM EVIL (September 14, 6 pm, with the director). Oliver O’Grady, “Father Ollie,” would have felt at home in The Bells of St. Mary’s. Elfin, with an Irish brogue and brimming with wisdom and cheer, he ingratiated himself into the families of parishioners like the Jyonos, who invited him to stay over, little knowing that while they slept Father Ollie was raping their five-year-old daughter.

This went on for 20 years, with O’Grady stalking victims male and female, the youngest nine months old, until the authorities got on his case. Then the Church, specifically Bishop Roger Mahony, later archbishop of Los Angeles, would intervene, not removing O’Grady from circulation but relocating him in another parish where he wasn’t known.

I’m not sure what is most disturbing in this film. Perhaps when Bob Jyono, stoic until then, breaks down in a paroxysm of grief, guilt, and fury. Or maybe the ongoing apologia of O’Grady himself, delivered with the lubriciousness of a Sunday homily, as he rationalizes his guilt while euphemistically describing his abominations. (He’s currently a free man, peering into playgrounds in Ireland.)

Mostly, though, I think it’s the truth hammered home by Father Tom Doyle, an early advocate of those victimized by the clergy. In the patriarchal hierarchy that is the Catholic Church, the rights of thousands of children mean nothing compared with the ambitions of, say, the future archbishop of Los Angeles. Or even the future Pope Benedict XVI. According to the film, Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was the person in the Vatican who could have ended the abuse decades ago.

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