Vatican’s Monsignor Vigano Thinks Movies Can Be ‘Sacred Art’

Monsignor Dario Edoardo Vigano has been in Mexico participating in the 20th-anniversary celebrations of the Chair of Sacred Art at Monterrey University — and he dedicated the commemoration to the art of the moving image.

The anniversary events began on Tuesday, Feb. 13, with Msgr. Vigano — the Prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat of Communications — set to give three talks: “Searching God in the Folds of the Visible”; “The Face of Jesus in Cinema: History, Model Narratives, Intersemiotic Questions”; and “Sacred Art in the Cinema: New Language and Unedited Methods to Tell Stories in the Center of Audiovisual Production of the Holy See.”


(BTW, not entirely sure what “Intersemiotic Questions” are, but scholar Roman Jakobson translated “Intersemiotic Translation” as “Translation from one linguistic system to another which means the transference of meaning from a verbal to a non-verbal system or from one medium to another.” Your guess is as good as mine.)

In an interview conducted with ZENIT prior to leaving for Mexico, Msgr. Vigano shared some thoughts on the value of movies.

Here are some excerpts.

On honoring the movies:

[Cinema is a] dynamic art, projected towards the future, which involves all the phases of age, from children to adults; it captures the emotions, it tells stories taken from our life and, above all, it’s the factory of dreams. To speak of dreams doesn’t mean to make reference to the superficial part of existence, to the ephemeral, rather to that part of us that is always ready to receive novelties and projects, to be moved, to combine sentiments and rationality. The cinema has all this and does it . . . with art.

His favorite films (with a definite lack of mainstream Hollywood movies):

I cannot but mention “The Gospel According to Matthew” of Pier Paolo Pasolini, a milestone in the history of cinema and of the cinema that addresses the biblical text and the subject of the sacred; “Diary of a Country Priest” of Robert Bresson; “Dialogues of the Carmelites”  of Raymond Leopold Bruckberger and Philippe Agostini; “The Seventh Seal” of Ingmar Bergman; “Au Hasard Balthazar” of Robert Bresson. I add a more recent one (1994) “Before the Rain” of Milcho Manchevski. I’ll stop here , because the list risks being too long and losing its efficacy.

On religious movies:

If religious subjects are treated, the cinema can become an instrument of evangelization, not of proselytism, but an occasion to lay in people’s heart the healthy restlessness of the search for meaning, of the presence of others and of the Other.

On Jesus’ omnipresence:

Francois Mauriac wrote in his “Life of Jesus”:  “. . . and when, some weeks later, Jesus is removed from the group of the disciples, goes up and is dissolved in light, it’s not a definitive departure. He is already hidden, at the turn of the road that goes from Jerusalem to Damascus, and spies Saul, his beloved persecutor. Henceforth, in each man’s destiny, there will be this God lurking, ‘ . . . also in the cinema.

Back in 1995, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of cinema, the Vatican compiled this list of great movies. It does include some mainstream films, such as the 1959 “Ben-Hur,” “A Man for All Seasons” (1966), “The Mission (1986), “Chariots of Fire” (1981), “Gandhi” (1982), “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), “Citizen Kane” (1941), Disney’s “Fantasia” (1940), “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) and “The Wizard of Oz” (1939).

Last December, compiled a list of movies that got, if not a papal imprimatur, at least got a quasi-papal endorsement, from the pope screening the film or meeting one-on-one with the filmmakers (or, at minimum, a kind word from L’Osservatore Romano, the semiofficial Vatican newspaper).

Among the post-1995 releases on that unofficial list are Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” (2016), “Spotlight” (2015), the new “Ben-Hur” (2016) and “The Passion of the Christ” (2004).

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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