“There’s no point in killing a bad priest,” says a voice from the dark in Calvary’s opening scene. “But killing a good one? That’d be a shock.”
Equal parts diverting, disturbing and thought-provoking, Calvary is a fascinating follow-up from John Michael McDonagh’s directorial debut The Guard. It is a story of detachment, disillusionment and losing faith.
Brendan Gleesen is a monolithic, barrel-chested priest in a simple black cassock surrounded by a Mr. Men village of sin and deviance. We watch his character Father James Lavelle clinging to relevance in the increasingly godless village of Easkey, Ireland.
There’s Mr. Rich (a very self-aware deadpan from Dylan Moran), Mr. Lonely (a young misogynist hoping to scratch a homicidal itch by joining the army), Ms. Adulteress, Mr. Violent… These are his parishioners and one of them has threatened the good priest’s life.
As he goes about his rounds, the advice he offers is rarely received with the same good feeling that it is given. Father Lavelle is viewed as a sanctimonious busy-body by the self-centred sinners who don’t want to question the way they live.
Revealing more about Father Lavelle’s past is his daughter, who arrives after her own attempted suicide. Tension about his timing entering the priesthood has strained their relationship, but – as he gets his affairs in order – we watch them reconnect.
Despite the film almost being a mystery, the film’s pacing puts no real urgency on figuring out who has threatened the priest. The ending is inexorable; Father Lavelle seems to know that, and so do we. It is the journey to that finale which is important.
The metaphors and themes in Calvary are blunt and deliberate, but the gravity of Gleesen’s humanity and wit draws us, and his flakey parishioners, into his orbit. As faith is rejected, the need for counsel and wisdom persists.
Calvary is out on DVD 3 November.
Review by Rachael McKinnon