TRADITIONAL themes associated with Advent abound in a new French film directed by Patrick Ridremont. Death, judgment, heaven and hell all figure in The advent calendar (no BBFC certificate), but not necessarily in that order.
Eva (Eugénie Derouand), now a paraplegic, was previously a ballet dancer. The references to Swan Lake may indicate that, like Tchaikovsky’s composition, the film draws loosely from the old story of Ondine. There, as in this new film, a physically trapped young woman feels cursed because of the misdeeds of others. It is beyond human powers to free her. In this tale, liberation comes in the form of an old-fashioned Advent calendar from Eva’s free-spirited friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier), who stole it in Germany.
In the spirit of the season, Eva in a wheelchair is full of expectations for “the miracle of Christmas”. Certain rules are attached to the gift. The owner must eat what is behind each window. Failure to comply will result in death. At first, the different sweets have an air of paradise (including a chocolate host and a child Jesus, a taste of Christmas).
Before long, the surprises start to make life hellish. We could guess that would happen, as the movie is streaming on the Shudder channel. Every midnight, a tarnished wooden priest emerges from the top of the calendar and is rarely the harbinger of good news. He seems to be offering a Faustian pact: destroy what hurt Eva, and she will walk again. Even the devil can quote Scripture for his purpose, and, of course, Jesus’ instruction to get up and walk (John 5.8) is quoted.
Then comes judgment. Who in Eva’s experience contributed to her current miserable state? Who will have to die if she wants to live and dance again?
The film is steeped in echoes of the chilling history of WW Jacob monkey’s paw. The moral of both is to be careful what you wish for. Eva tries in vain to avoid the disasters that befall those she loves and who, without knowing it, have hurt her. Is this a price she is willing to pay to regain her mobility?
She has unenviable choices. One aspires to the appearance of an Advent hope for Eva, who “weeps in lonely exile here”. The film suggests that this will only happen through the experience of waiting. But it is a horror story, and the period leading up to the birth of the Savior is, in the words of TS Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi,” a “hard and bitter agony.” . . like death, our death”.
It is to the credit of Patrick Ridremont for having sustained our interest through a catalog of incessant variations on a theme leading to who knows what. Viewers are left guessing what the December 25 window might bring.
On Shudder and other platforms.
Amy Grant, featured in The Jesus Music
The film music of jesus (classification PG-13) recounts how relatively primitive worship songs from a small church in Costa Mesa, California grew into a massive business enterprise. More than 50 million people listen to Contemporary Christian Music every week. Talking heads – musicians, agents, record producers, church leaders, etc. – tell its history and the current situation. It is a classic example of what Max Weber called the routinization of charisma. What begins with an inspirational leader becomes institutionalized as its followers grow.
Calvary Chapel pastor Chuck Smith encouraged a disgruntled post-Vietnam War generation to come in and share his hippie music. As a result, it became a mega-church, spurring the founding of over 1,000 other branches. Billy Graham recommends his music despite opposition from Jimmy Swaggart and others. The film makes it clear that the more Christian music progressed, the greater the gap between African American and white congregations grew. Kirk Franklin, the revered black singer-songwriter, is harangued by a white man who tells him he’s not a Christian.
Of all the performers, it seems that Amy Grant acted as a bridge between Jesus Music and the secular world. His greatest hits, “The Next Time I Fall” and “baby baby”, have no religious reference, but Grant’s Christian beliefs are well known and have drawn others to the faith. Some similarities can perhaps be discerned with Cliff Richard’s tastes in the UK – which leads me to note that this film, with rare exceptions, only covers the US scene.
Kirk Franklin, in an image from The Jesus Music
But the music is not monochromatic: there is folk, rock, heavy metal, soul, jazz, etc. Senior figures in contemporary church music are beginning to recognize that a religious movement has turned into a money-making machine. The product has taken precedence over the people. There are notable attempts to return to its roots. Inspired by a paraphrase of Amos 5.21-24, Michael W. Smith brought Christian singers together to form a choir. He invited them to drop their egos at the door and perform “I return to the heart of worship”.
The Erwin brothers’ film, generously funded by the Gospel Music Association, is strong on depicting Jesus Music’s career and contains some analysis. But I wondered what was missing. We hear a lot of music, but too few words. Those that we can hear major on the crucifixion as an act of penal substitution and the imminence of the coming of Christ. While racism and greed are strongly condemned by the film’s main figures, no information is given about any resulting political activity. We know from other sources that several artists interviewed lean towards the religious right. All in all, it’s music that overwhelms our souls, leaving us lost in wonder, love and praise.
On digital platforms from December 13