Faith and Film, Angels and Demons

Ewan McGregor as the Camerlengo in Ron Howard's Angels and Demons.

Despite showcasing some of the most ravishing examples of religious architecture and statuary in Christendom -- including the Pantheon in Rome  -- Angels and Demons, ranks considerably higher on the suspense-ometer than the spiritual-ometer.

As a thriller,  Ron Howard's sequel to The Da Vinci Code is effective. But it lacks those qualities -- an internal struggle, a meditative pace and space, and moral conversion -- basic to the spiritual journey, whether it be Groundhog Day or Diary of a Country Priest.

My personal spiritual film festival would definitely include Agnieszka Holland's The Third Miracle  (1999 ),  a surprising film starring Ed Harris a priest whose faith is shaken -- and reaffirmed -- when he investigates the life of a woman proposed for saitnhood. And of course Niki Caro's Whale Rider (2003), with Keisha Castle-Hughes as the Maori girl who challenges tribal tradition and contends for the role as shaman. (I also like Castle-Hughes as the Blessed Virgin in Catherine Hardwicke's The Nativity Story.) All the films of Robert Bresson would be there, but especially Country Priest (1950) and L'Argent (1983). And while my mind is in France, Alan Cavalier's Therese (1986), is a charming film about a girl who became a saint. And, goodness knows, so would Harold Ramis' Groundhog Day (1993), a Bill Murray comedy about moral self-improvement that strikes Buddhist, Christian and Jewish chords. Kim Ki-Duk's transcendent Spring, Summer, Fall Winter...and Spring (2004) is a powerful story about a Buddhist monk. Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors ( 1989 ) is a devastating story about an agnostic and his accidental reaffirmation.

Carl Theodor Dreyer's  deeply felt  Ordet (1955), bridges traditional Christianity and personal spirituality, as does Gabriel Axel's remarkable Babette's Feast (1987), likewise from Denmark. Both film versions of Graham Greene's The End of the Affair -- the 1955 one with Deborah Kerr and John Mills and the 1999 one with Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes -- rock me to my core. Kerr played nuns several time but none is as moving as her sister in Black Narcissus. (1947). Ian Charleson's performance as Scottish missionary -- and Olympic runner -- Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire (1981) is inexplicably moving. My formative spiritual films both star Hayley Mills: In Whistle Down the Wind (1961, a movie based on a book by her mother), she is a child who mistakes a murderer for Jesus. And in The Trouble With Angels (1967), a surprisingly profound  Ida Lupino comedy about teen shenanigans in a convent school, Mills' unexpected spiritual growth is remarkable.

What's in your spiritual film festival?