God’s Mixed Child (Film Review: “The Jewish Cardinal”)

For the record, I am a bad Catholic. Despite my conscription in a parochial girls’ boarding school and four years at The Catholic University of America, I remain peculiarly secular in my relationship with the Church and its teachings. So perhaps it’s a guilty conscience that drives my taste in film to all things Clergy. I’ll leave it to God to judge. And in the meantime, I recommend The Jewish Cardinal, the true story of a Jewish boy who at the age of 14 converted to Christianity and whose mother was exterminated at Auschwitz shortly after, who went on to become the symbol of a Judeo-Christian paradigm, a rising star in the hierarchy of The Church and one of Pope John Paul II’s most trusted advisers.

SnapShot Plot

We meet Father Jean-Marie Lustiger in Paris in 1979, on the day he finds out he’s being ‘promoted’ to Bishop of Orleans by the recently elected Pope John Paul II, and it’s then that we first recognize the inner turmoil and conflicted soul of the man, not to mention the worst chain-smoker in the history of cinema. His naturally ambitious nature is at odds with an inner cynicism which makes him doubt the sincerity of the offer, wondering if the Pope wants to make an example to the world of the converted Jew, for political effect. There begins a spiritual, emotional and political roller-coaster of a career in which we learn as much about the Politics of Religion from World War II to today as we do this galvanizing personality.  Laurent Lucas brings a smoldering fire to his portrayal of Lustiger and Aurelien Recoing’s John Paul II breathes a mischievous, politically wily essence to the beloved Pontiff who is presently being canonized in Rome. What begins as a tentative alliance between the two men develops into a complex and -at times- fiery bond with implications that extend beyond the walls of the Vatican itself.

 

Parting Shot

Although it has a somewhat abrupt bio-pic ending, I’m not sure what else director, Ilan Duran Cohen could have done to complete the film better. My own research informed me that when John Paul II died in 2005, Lustiger was considered on the short list for the papacy, but instead he stepped down as archbishop that same year, battling bone and lung cancer (gee, you think?) At his funeral mass at Notre Dame Cathedral in 2007, attended by the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, the Kaddish (the Jewish prayer for the dead) was recited outside the portal of the cathedral. The epitaph was written by Lustiger himself in 2004, which sums up how he saw himself in the world:

I was born Jewish.
I received the name of my paternal grandfather, Aaron.
Having become Christian by faith and by Baptism, I have remained Jewish as did the Apostles.
I have as my patron saints Aaron the High Priest, Saint John the Apostle, Holy Mary full of grace.
Named 139th archbishop of Paris by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, I was enthroned in this Cathedral on 27 February 1981, and here I exercised my entire ministry.
Passers-by, pray for me.
† Aaron Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger
Archbishop of Paris

Featured Image Courtesy of:  http://ukjewishfilm.org/film/the-jewish-cardinal/

YouTube Trailer Courtesy of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsycptpSwec

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