Tammy Faye’s Eyes, Confession, Amulet

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The film Tammy Faye’s eyes (Cert. 12A) chronicles the life of the late Tammy Faye and her then-husband, Jim Bakker, who in their day drew more than 120 million viewers a year on the PTL-Club TV shows. Jim (played by Andrew Garfield) preached a prosperity gospel. “God’s hope is that we prosper, not that we want to be poor.”

It’s clear how appealing a get-rich-quick religion was. The film portrays Tammy (Jessica Chastain) and Jim as sufficiently authentic, while quickly adopting the opulent lifestyle of their mentors. At first, they are under the wing of televangelist Pat Robertson, whose house sports gold toilet seats and whose wife wears a thick mink coat in the height of summer. Supporting them is Jerry Falwell, another high-profile conservative pastor and founder of the Moral Majority organization.

Tammy, in particular, brings a splash of color to religious programs once dominated by men in suits. Her musicality and her puppet ministry endeared her to the public. Jim’s ambitions range from creating a lucrative Christian theme park to organizing overseas missions. The fundraising arrangements are suspect, ultimately leading to his indictment for skimming over $1 million in on-air donations for himself.

Tammy seems indifferent to the accumulated wealth surrounding her, viewing it as God’s bountiful goodness to their ministry. Only his pious mother, Rachel (Cherry Jones), raises relevant questions about it. An austere manner and overt lack of affection make her come across as an unsympathetic character. In reality, she is a worried mother. Appalled by Tammy’s gaudy wealth, she tells her, “Serving God doesn’t feel like it should be a money-making opportunity!”

Although Jim spends a lot of screen time, it’s basically Tammy’s picture. Jessica Chastain manages to strike the balance between the giddy, over-the-top performer (resplendent in the brand’s indelible mascara) and the shrewd, yet caring entrepreneur. His inimitable singing style and sense of fun win hearts and minds for Jesus, even when they dare to combine old-time religious fervor with topics such as erectile dysfunction and gay Christian advocacy. This last activity leads to cross swords with the religious right. Falwell orders Bakker to contain his wife’s enthusiasms, but to no avail.

Marriage is already threatened for several reasons. Tammy’s desire for attention off-screen as well as on television knows no bounds. Jim’s own behavior is far from embodying the Christian morality he publicly defends. It’s a pretty familiar story of how the mighty fell.

There have been earlier TV movies and documentaries about Tammy. This film is an attempt to rectify earlier media portrayals of a conniving, good-time girl with the caricature of a face. You can see how generous and vulnerable she was. Chastain carries her from youthful vigor to old age in a compelling performance.

Nevertheless, the film occasionally dives into hagiography, rarely wondering if we are dealing with a saint or a sinner when, like all of us, she has something of both. As Tammy says, “We’re all people made of the same old dirt. And God didn’t do any junk.

Going out to the cinema.

There aren’t many movies that take place entirely in one space. 12 angry men and Dial M for murder come close, and the 2010 film Buried has a man who spends all his time in a coffin. Confession (Cert. 15) is limited to a place of worship. St Mary Magdalene’s, Debenham, Suffolk, doubles as a Roman Catholic church in Massachusetts.

Stephen Moyer as Victor Strong and Colm Meaney as Father Peter in Confession

After saying the evening prayer, Father Peter (Colm MeaneyAir conditioning) is about to lock up when a gunman, bleeding profusely, bursts in. This is Victor Strong (Stephen Moyertrue blood), who wants to confess about his wife, who was murdered some time ago, and the teenage daughter he hasn’t seen in years. First, the priest bandages the wound as best he can, after being banned at gunpoint from calling a hospital. Victor may not have long to live, but that doesn’t stop him from expending a lot of energy barking orders and, in the most roundabout way, telling Peter the whole story.

Where is it? A cop, Willow (Clare-Hope Ashitey, Doctor Foster, Riviera), also injured. She is quietly texting for help. Everything turns into a great dark night of the soul for the three of them. The priest, as well as Victor, had his demons. He recalls his own experiences in an attempt to assure the penitent how forgiveness heals us. “That’s what faith is,” he shouts. Willow, when she reveals her presence, is just as enigmatic a figure as the man she is tracking. She too may have her secrets, but that is how they will remain.

Instead of having some ability to free each other from their nightly fears and fantasies, this is a case where the hell is other people. At Sartre Enclosed house (No Eleave), three characters struggle to understand what has brought them to this point of despair. Confession explores similar territory. Can we reclaim our true selves, and does the perception others have of us hinder or facilitate the process?

If the priest has already committed himself, by the mercy of God, to making this voyage of discovery, he continues to have his difficulties. Victor has done the equivalent of confessing to stealing a rope, but has so far neglected to mention the horse at the end of it. In a show of moral superiority, Willow, it seems, has no time to examine herself.

Writer-director David Beton, who also played a significant role in the screenplay of Banishment (Arts, April 30, 2021), sets up a series of fascinating paradoxes. The trouble begins with the barely believable twists he produces in his efforts to end the affair. He does himself a disservice by limiting the action to a single frame. It takes a lot of cinematic prowess to make it work aesthetically. And one also wonders why the story needed a New England setting, given its non-American cast. Beton’s visions of heaven, hell and purgatory demand a universality that transcends any geographical limitation.
Released on digital platforms and DVD.

AMULET (Cert. 15) is a film full of ideas, probably too many. One of its main themes is religion and who benefits from it. Sister Claire (Imelda Staunton), a nun, comes to the aid of Tomas (Alec Secareanu: Gods Oth country). This former soldier in a European war now works as a bricklayer in Britain. A fire in his squat steals his money and books, in addition to causing injuries.

Imelda Staunton as Sister Claire in Amulet

The hospital refers him to a church where Sister Claire works. She relocates him with Magda (Carla Juri: Blade Runner: 2049) and his dying mother. There is something strange about the inhabitants and the dilapidated house itself.

Interspersed with how things unfold is a story where Tomas is on guard duty at a heavily wooded checkpoint. As he walks away from his solitary and bored existence, he comes across a statuette of a woman with a hairdo, which he recognizes as an amulet, a charm against evil. A later flashback is of a woman desperately trying to rush past Tomas in an attempt to cross the border safely. Something about this encounter traumatized Tomas – which is only revealed later.

Back in London, he undertook to renovate this dilapidated house. In the process, he realizes that this is no ordinary mother in the attic. His agony is more than physical. It is obvious that she is demonically possessed. Just when the film seems to be turning into a dark, routine tale at the top of the stairs, many other plotlines begin to emerge. We could have guessed that all is not what it seems. In a house without electricity, the light bulbs flicker. Rescue comes from an unexpected source.

And the nun turns out to be much more complicated than initially thought. Sister Claire’s place in all the turmoil is the key to everything else. There is a progression with each scene from her personifying submission to the restraints of Mother Church to being an outspoken guardian of the truth, ready to look evil in the face and throw off ecclesiastical oppression. When Tomas seeks comfort from her, she says that the Church is not a sanctuary: it is a crucible. Sister Claire questions how he mentally “reclassified” his war crimes as mere failures to prevent harm to people.

Like Sister Claire, Magda sees through Tomas’ attempts to exculpate herself. We see him reading Hannah Arendt’s On violence. She challenges him to translate the philosopher’s ideas into action and quotes Hildegarde de Bingen: “Dare to declare who you are. . . You must be ready to jump. The very masculinity of how he approaches life limits his perception of how God’s forgiveness works.

This is an ambitious film with multiple levels of complexity from actor-turned-director Romola Garai (Atonement, Incredible Grace). At first glance, its storyline could be mistaken for one-dimensional horror.party. It’s easy to see how the visual language of directors like David Cronenberg (Thrill) and Jennifer Kent (The Babadook) as well as Italy giallo slasher movies influenced him.

Nevertheless, there are a multitude of spiritual themes exploring the nature of evil and the amulets needed to contain it. The horror is just the carnival barker’s patter to entice you to shop around.

Going out to the cinema.

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