December 2015

Summer films for the mind and spirit

In our last edition for 2015, The Good Oil invited some of our writers and readers to nominate a film they particularly enjoyed and would recommend to others for viewing over summer. Check out their list of good films for the mind and spirit.

BY The Good Oil’s readers and writers

Each was asked to choose a recently released film or a classic that they would recommend to others, the main criterion being that it stimulated the mind or nourished the spirit. Why not add your recommendation to our small list of films in the comments section below?

Last Cab to Darwin, Wild and The Dressmaker – recommended by Judith Scully

I’m an infrequent movie goer, but I like the storytelling to be set in a landscape that frees my eyes to see further, road journeys that recognise my own inner journey, and movies by women, about women. Last Cab to Darwin and Wild are both journeys into the interior. No road chases or shoot-outs, just lots of lovely silent spaces where Michael Caton as a terminally-ill taxi driver and Reece Witherspoon as a woman desperate to halt her destructive lifestyle, get in touch with the hope that they have always struggled to hear. The Dressmaker dresses a bleak Australian landscape in 50s fashion and transforms misplaced guilt into a kind of joy.

Seraphine – recommended by Pam Grey SGS

The French film, Seraphine, opens with a woman in touch with reality while scrubbing floors and washing sheets by day, and revelling in her shimmering secret at night. Seraphine is an artist inspired by her lush natural world and her angels too. Then an art critic and collector enters her life. Throughout the film my gaze held and my senses expanded as I was immersed in Seraphine’s simple humanity and world of genius. I also learnt what happens when a person’s presence is truly recognised by another. Both are touched and changed forever. It is a hauntingly memorable film.

Invictus – recommended by John Clarke

If you can’t get to the movies, look to stimulate your mind and spirit via the video library. Invictus (2009) provides insight into Nelson Mandela’s presidency plus life lessons for us all. Its inspiring messages of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope have much to teach about character and the nature of leadership. The story focuses on Mandela’s determination to unite his country through the unlikely medium of rugby, previously regarded as a symbol of apartheid oppression. His belief in the innate goodness of people is inspiring. One further gift from Invictus is its reminder that the All Blacks can be beaten!

Bridge of Spies – recommended by Carmel Dunne

Bridge of Spies, a true story based on repatriation and exchange, is tense and wonderful. James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is called to undertake the negotiations for exchange. He says to the always deliberative and calm Russian spy, Abel (Mark Rylance), “Aren’t you worried?” His laconic reply, “Would it help”, becomes an evocative refrain between them. The building of the Berlin Wall features with its shoddy reality and impassable border. In 1989 in Queensland, all Year 12 students had written on the topic of ‘Building Walls’. The first night of marking papers, the news came that the Wall was being taken down. We cheered and fancifully believed that ‘Building Walls’, the topic, had helped because of the power of the concentration of thousands of students! Read about it and see the film if you can.

Amy – recommended by Patty Fawkner SGS

Documentaries aren’t what they used to be. They’re so much better. The doco, Amy, tells the story of Amy Winehouse, the English soul, blues and jazz singer with the exceptional voice, who tragically died of alcohol poisoning at the age of 27. The film is intimate, engaging and achingly sad. You end up caring so much for this incredibly talented woman, and are left wondering about the effects of celebrity, the drug culture and the exploitation of women. The men in Amy’s life enjoy the benefits of her fame but cannot provide the emotional support for which she desperately yearns.

Music of the Heart – recommended by Penny Carroll

Music of the Heart, a true and beautiful story of an inexperienced but remarkably gifted teacher and musician, Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep), is an inspiring rendering of the music program in which a thousand children from disadvantaged circumstances in East Harlem learned to play the violin. The success of Roberta’s program affirms the power of music and commitment to teaching and learning which transforms lives. When the school dropped her program after ten years, Roberta would not be defeated. A benefit concert at Carnegie Hall supported by Isaac Stern, Itzak Perlman and others (who appear ‘live’ in the movie) ensures its continuation.

Far from Men – recommended by Moya Weissenfeld SGS

Far from Men is a French film set against the background of the 1954 Algerian war. An ex-French army officer, Daru, now teaches Arab village children to read, to give them hope for a future. Against his will he becomes involved in enabling the French to administer justice to an Arab murderer. I found this film stimulating, challenging, heart-warming. Compassion, hospitality, self-sacrifice for the greater good, the essential evil of war which destroys the humanity of soldiers, the need to make choices and accept the consequences, are all portrayed sensitively.
I recommend it highly.

Selma – recommended by Marie Milne

Selma, Ava DuVernay’s inspirational movie of Martin Luther King’s struggle to secure voting rights for African-Americans in the face of violent opposition, traces the pivotal period leading up to the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. It is the story of a movement. David Oyelowo is mesmerising as King, illuminating with grace and emotion the man behind the public figure; conflicted by human frailties and his tenacious perseverance despite a sombre premonition of his ultimate destiny. Selma and its rousing musical anthem “Glory” remind us that tragically, 50 years on, racial injustice continues to make world headlines. The struggle continues.

The Dressmaker – recommended by Margaret Keane SGS

If you want or like every emotion to be touched, then The Dressmaker is a great film that did this for me. This film is about justice and injustice, families and gossips, resilience and perseverance. The characters, in a very small country town, have not moved in attitude or fashion for years. They are hostile about the return of Myrtle, a woman accused of a murder. I came out rejoicing that justice was done, sad that it took so long and caused much suffering, while at the same time laughing at so many of the incidents and the characters. Truly inspirational.

Up – recommended by Monica Dutton

One of my favourite ‘down-time’ films in recent years is the Pixar animation Up. The story of the adventures of Carl and his young companion Russell, is deftly crafted and delightfully executed. The main characters provide fun and freshness, while their emerging underlying motivations offer food for thought. The power of animation to weave a story beautifully without dialogue is never clearer – the opening montage tracing the lives of Carl and Ellie is possibly the most poignant in the history of animation. Great holiday viewing, and a lovely one to share with younger members of the family.

He Named Me Malala – recommended by Bernardina Sontrop SGS

There are few who haven’t heard something about Malala Yousafzai, the courageous, inspiring young advocate for the right to education for women in Taliban-controlled Pakistan. This documentary uses both news footage and beautifully produced animated dramatic scenes. It tells Malala’s and her family’s story, from her growing up in Pakistan, the home country to which they can no longer return, to her continuing global campaign for girls’ education as co-founder of the Malala Fund. Scenes showing the politics of the time, the violence, including the shooting attack on Malala’s life, the challenges she faced in her recovery, the struggles and joys of family and life in her new home in the UK, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, are both engaging and confronting. It’s a ‘must see’ film for all who have a longing for justice for all, especially the education of young women in our world.

Call the Midwife – recommended by Margaret-Mary Flynn

I can recommend Call the Midwife, a series set in post-war London, which I consider almost essential viewing for women from a point of view of understanding what life was like for us prior to the rise of feminism and the impact of safe fertility control on women’s life choices. Blokes should watch it too, but probably won’t get past the first labour pains! The series is moving, funny, sad, brave and compassionate, with wonderful characters and beautifully made and directed. Bring the tissues.

The Color Purple – recommended by Moira Byrne Garton

When my husband and I read that 2015 marks 30 years since Stephen Spielberg’s The Color Purple was released, we watched it again. It is novelist Alice Walker’s story of Celie, an African-American girl who triumphs over adversity. Despite child abuse and a violent and unhappy marriage, Celie draws strength from the love of her sister, Nettie. Over time, she assumes her sister is dead, and learns to love herself through her relationship with her husband’s mistress, Shug. With an upbeat, gospel-inspired soundtrack and themes of hope throughout, this is a wonderful film to track down or to revisit.

Goodnight Mister Tom – recommended by Marie Casamento SGS

The 1998 film Goodnight Mr Tom is a story to be savoured. Set in an English village during World War II, it can be viewed in the light of today and the substance of protests. Ten-year-old William is sent to a village and placed with cantankerous Tom. The effects of war, trauma and mental illness challenge our biases now as they did for people then. Can a man be a mother? What does a child feel living in a city frequently bombed? What is a safe space? This film is loaded with affect. As affect changes from fear, anger and anxiety to love, hope is realisable. Watch this film and let the Tom in you gaze at a refugee child.

The Sopranos – recommended by Paul O’Shea

The most exciting TV experience I’ve had in years was during a summer binge on the six seasons of what many have described the “greatest television series ever” – The Sopranos. As far as dysfunctional families go, it would be hard to find a more morally and ethically challenged group of people than the Soprano family. In a world where going to Sunday Mass, giving generously to the local Catholic high school, and supporting New Jersey’s annual Italo-American fundraisers, happens alongside ordering ‘hits’ on rival mob families and destroying lives through prostitution, gambling, extortion and drugs, the Sopranos excel in moral compartmentalising of their lives. Black humour gradually fades as the spiral of self-destructive behaviour engulfs all the characters. The ending is one of the most climactic episodes in television. Nothing is at is seems.

The Good Oil

‘The Good Oil’, the free, monthly e-journal of the Good Samaritan Sisters, publishes news, feature and opinion articles and reflective content which aims to nourish the spirit, stimulate thinking and encourage reflection and dialogue about contemporary issues from a Good Samaritan perspective.

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