Ilan Duran Cohen would probably have been the last filmmaker I'd have come up with. Among this writer/director's best-known work are two terrific movies -- Confusion of Genders and The Joy of Singing -- that deal with sex in several of its many forms and are, in their funny and outrageous manner, rather ground-breaking. Now, here comes Cohen, giving us a serious, worthy film about a man and his religions -- one abandoned, another embraced -- and how he tries to somehow unite both them and the folk who follow them.
THE JEWISH CARDINAL ("God's Crossbreed" in its original and more interesting French title, Le métis de Dieu) tells the extremely worthwhile (even, I think, to us atheists) tale of Jean-Maire Lustiger, a Jew born to Polish immigrants in France, who converted as a child to Catholicism, yet insisted on maintaining his cultural identity as a Jew, even as he rose to extraordinary prominence in the Catholic Church. M. Cohen, show at right, has managed to turn out a movie (made for French television, by the way) that places emphasis on what M. Lustiger, our Cardinal, tried to accomplish. Rather than give us the usual "history-of-the-guy" approach, he incorporates neatly only some of this information into his brainy screenplay, and concentrates instead on the man's insistence on bringing these two important religions together (he is often reminding his listeners that Jesus was, after all, a Jew).
Aurélien Recoing (above), to whom our Cardinal becomes a kind of confidant. What transpires between these two men is simply fascinating. Even an Anti-Papist like me came away from this film with some respect for the intelligence of that particular Pope.
Auschwitz Concentration Camp, built and run by the Nazis in occupied Poland during World War II, became involved in a kind of tug-of-war between Polish Catholics and Jews from across the world, as the horrifically anti-Semitic Poles try to install a permanent convent on the Auschwitz grounds. The filmmaker allows us to observe all this from several angles: those of the Jews and the Poles, and especially that of the Vatican, where our Cardinal (played with restraint but only partially buried emotion by the fine Laurent Lucas, above and on poster, top) becomes the man who must somehow work this out to the benefit of all parties. This is not easy, and the fact that Duran makes its ins-and-outs both intelligible and understandable is an accomplishment.
Audrey Dana; Albert Decourtray, Archbishop of Lyon, played by Pascal Greggory; and Lustiger's assistant, Father Julien, played by Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet. (This talented young actor is building quite a versatile resume, having now appeared in roles so different in everything from Love Songs and Black Heaven to The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Princess of Montpensier.)
Film Movement and running 96 minutes, will appear on DVD and via Netflix streaming this coming Tuesday, May 20, while also being available for purchase or rental from Film Movement itself.