is the story of the picture house Father Daniel Barry built. He is supposed to be raising money for a new
church, but his salt-of-the-earth parishioners are rather stingy donors. However, a legitimate movie theater would
bring in a steady flow of ticket receipts to fund the construction efforts. Frankly, the good Father does not really want
a new church anyway in Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s Stella Days (trailer
opens tomorrow in New York (and is already available on-demand from Tribeca
Barry would rather be in Rome and he never bothered to hide his feelings from
his flock. Transferred back to Ireland
as punishment for a bit of a personal spat with Vatican colleagues, the priest’s
anticipated return to Rome has been postponed for the sake of the parish
capital drive. Father Barry would hardly
seem to be the man for the job, but his passion for cinema and friendship with Tim
Lynch, the comparatively cosmopolitan new school teacher, inspire his vision
for The Stella Theater. It obviously
complicates the overall plan considerably, but the good Father can get behind
efforts to build a neighborhood cinema much more readily.
the mid 1950’s, electrification was still quite new in rural hamlets like
Father Barry’s parish. In fact, the
priest is the town’s leading advocate for all that new fangled technology. Indeed, the priest is the progressive in this
period piece. His Bishop—not so
much. However, sourpuss politician
Brendan McSweeney is the real thorn is the Father’s side. McSweeney’s pressure and a scandal involving Lynch
and the technically still married woman he boards with hasten Father Barry’s simmering
crisis of faith.
McSweeney’s judgmental villainy is rather shopworn stuff by now. The hiss-able social conservative actually
represents a rare off-par performance from the normally reliable Stephen
Rea. Finding nothing human in the
character, Rea seems to be going through the dastardly motions simply to
advance the plot.
contrast, Father Daniel Barry, as played by Martin Sheen, is a different matter
entirely. Though the character could
have easily descended into an unfortunate Catholic stereotype, Days presents his internal conflicts in
the sympathetic tradition of Bresson’s Diary
of a Country Priest. Sheen’s
sensitive turn clearly suggests parish priesthood has tremendous value and
Father Barry’s snowballing doubts simply make him human and fully dimensional.
from the serpentine McSweeney, Stella
Days is a considerably restrained film.
Despite its love for cinema, O’Sullivan never relies on stereotypical
shots of audience staring in wide-eyed wonder at the flickering images on the
screen. Nor is Father Barry’s struggle
with his calling in any way cheap or demeaning.
Lynch is even an Artie Shaw fan, which shows some taste.
An appropriately muted looking period
production, Stella Days rarely takes
the easy way out, making it a legitimately humanistic portrait of an Irish
country priest. Recommended for patrons
of Irish film and those interested in its themes of Catholicism and cinema’s
role in society, Stella Days opens
tomorrow (6/22) in New York at the Quad Cinema.
Labels: Irish Cinema, Martin Sheen, Religion in film