Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tereza Nvotová's TAKE IT JEASY! explores a Czech Christian-fundamentalist school

In his quest for ever more outré titles (not really: film-
makers just keep pelting me with 'em), TrustMovies has come across a new Czech documentary by Tereza Nvotová (shown below, left) called TAKE IT JEASY! that explores the growing number of proselytizing religious groups, specifically Christian, in her home country of the Czech Republic. If you read me with any regularity, you'll know how wholly not enamored am I with any kind of organized religion. Consequently I tend to stay away from movies based around religion -- unless there's a particularly good "hook."

That hook is present in this relatively interesting film because, until recently (as I count the decades, at least) the former Czechoslovakia, being under the thumb of godless Russia -- those Communists got something right -- did not have access to the "freedom of religion" that we Americans possess. So religious proselytizing would have to be a relatively new experience for the Czechs. How do they respond? Not too far from the manner in which how we Americans react, from the looks of things, but they're a bit more polite and even interested.

As a child Ms Nvotová attended the bilingual “School of Tomorrow,” where she was raised by American missionaries that belonged to the charismatic Christian movement “Word of Faith.” Founded in the United States in the 1970s, the group promised its members a “permanent state of success and prosperity.” While learning English, not coincidentally, children who attended the “School of Tomorrow” were also taught how to heal, talk to Jesus, sing with their arms raised and defeat the devil. My: Doesn't that give a whole new meaning to "bilingual"?!

A decade later, as the director was walking through Prague's “Anděl” quarter, somebody shouted “Jesus loves you” at her -- and in that instant she flashed back to her childhood. It was a member of the same “Triumph Center of Faith” church doing the shouting, and after Nvotová had paused in astonishment, she decided to visit the group's next gathering, and a documentary was born.

The film that emerged after two years of following this group includes meetings with the director's former classmates and teacher and hearing what those classmates now think and feel about their childhood "education." The film takes us inside this controversial Christian fellowship, where we meet the members and their children and experience the “Conference of the Fire and Faith” that is “visited by Jesus.” Well, the idea of him, anyway. Isn't it funny how fundamentalist Christianity looks much the same, even when the language is foreign? One of the little twists here is that Jesus will make you successful: Shades of Tony Robbins -- with some Scientology mixed in. During services, a few soft rock songs help update the old story and perhaps make it a tad more acceptable for today's Czech youth.

Watching the preacher (above) coax his "flock" into a frenzy, however, is pretty much the same ol' same ol', but around 20 minutes into things, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end during the scene in which we watch the kids "get religion." Controlling these unformed minds at a tender age, as Miss Jean Brodie and a number of Fascists, large and small, have taught us, can result in their becoming yours for life.

There is a certain amount of -- well, too much, really -- repetition to the documentary; seeing the same thing several times over grows boring. But there are high spots along the way: realizing that not everyone we a see is a fanatic (not if they can joke about Lord Jesus on a toilet), and the scene in which Nvotová confronts her former teacher (above). His explanation of why and how he taught "creationism vs evolution" is patently absurd. One foolish lecture given by a woman to her young class concerning how man & woman arrived from the same root looks for all the world like an invitation to cross-dressing. And finally, to hear this religious leader go on and on about what God (who's a "he," of course) really wants & knows & does seems the height of presumption, if not stupidity.

By film's end, you may feel a lot like the poor kid we've seen sitting on the floor with his head in his hands. But then, gol' darn it, even he converts -- though his explanation of what happened seems to conflate religion with a sci-fi movie. And why not? Isn't it all pretty much the same?

Readers interested in Take It Jeasy! (a title which seems to suggest taking it easy via Jesus) can find it on eBay at this link. Or, if the link doesn't work, go directly to eBay and search for the film using item no: 280423425211. The price is only one buck, but the shipping charges are the standard $3. Still, paying $4 to own the documentary seems like a steal. I would think the film will be of particular interest to expatriate Czechs -- and anyone strongly pro or con on the subject of fundamentalist religion.

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