In rough descending order of preference:
The Cardboard Village (dir. Ermanno Olmi)
Olmi is that rarest of creatures: an unassuming virtuoso. In his new movie, he casts the hirsute and ancient Michael Lonesdale as a Catholic priest, who doggedly clings onto his condemned parish church. First, his beloved sanctum is desecrated by a team of builders (the crucifix swirling mid-air, the statues being put into boxes), and then invaded by a group of black illegal aliens. What initially seems to him an unwelcome presence, finally proves to be the replenishment the stripped-bare church desperately needed. Olmi’s respectful depiction of devotion notwithstanding, this is a secular work to boot – as Lonesdale says in a whispered monologue at one point, “Doing good means more than having faith”. In any other director’s hands, a statement like this would sound maudlin – it’s to Olmi’s credit that he manages to radiate noble sentiment without ever becoming coy in the slightest.
Michael* (Markus Schleinzer)
Leave it to a successfully Haneke-ized Austrian to deliver a dry story of a semi-sympathetic pedophile, as horrific as it is funny (and as engaging as it is manipulative). Michael Fuith infuses his character with equal measures of blandness and ruthlessness – his is a pedophile as a nebbish. Rarely was viewer’s identification mechanism as strained as in Schleinzer’s bold experiment, which – among other things – will probably go down in history as the movie which changes one’s perception of Boney M’s “Sunny” forever.
Habemus Papam (Nanni Moretti)
This year’s King’s Speech for the international art-house set, with Nanni Moretti as the insufferably wise psychoanalyst and Michel Piccoli as the newly-elected pope, who can’t handle the honor and escapes the Vatican. Catholic clergy is sentimentalized much in the same vein that Leo (Going My Way) McCarey would have appreciated: they are nothing more than an affable bunch of slightly cranky old codgers. The movie draws a parallel between stage-acting and religious faith that could have sounded more true if it weren’t conveyed in a series of cloying scenes of reciting Chekhov’s plays. Despite the open what-will-happen-now ending, which clearly aims at achieving the tone of stirring irresolution – this is a remarkably complacent work by a director who usually prided himself on a more critical approach to all institutions.