A nun decides to break free in ‘Elise’ doc

Written by Emiko Sanchizaki, CNN After “Elise,” the touching documentary film by German-Japanese director Christian Marclay, about a cloistered, solo nun spent time in the Frick Collection in New York , it seems one…

A nun decides to break free in 'Elise' doc

Written by Emiko Sanchizaki, CNN

After “Elise,” the touching documentary film by German-Japanese director Christian Marclay, about a cloistered, solo nun spent time in the Frick Collection in New York , it seems one of the most likely things to happen is for an equally successful version of the documentary to wind up playing at the Vatican.

No wonder then that a curious kind of hand-wringing has engulfed the Vatican ever since that first film played. The Italian director, who has a strong editorial streak, was a brave newcomer to the world of documentary filmmaking and, more significantly, a Roman Catholic nun.

Nevertheless, just how deeply the cultural divide affects Catholicism in the world’s largest Catholic church is the core question of the film. It has since been viewed by a staggering nine million people worldwide. The role of faith in the film has been huge. Everything from the nun’s decision to tell the movie inside her cloistered abbey to the ways in which the Catholic church in Germany celebrates its newfound popularity are explored.

The film reveals that around 200,000 people in Germany have openly declared their belief in “the gospel of love” and, in the context of the film, has given rise to a wave of controversy among Catholic church hierarchy. At one point, a sermon on the film was scheduled to be given at the Vatican. It was eventually cancelled because of the scale of the controversy it would have created.

It is a controversy that the nun itself is neither comfortable with, but plays an integral part in the films narrative. She is consequently in a difficult position: if she publicly articulates her own radical views, she risks alienating the Roman hierarchy.

The #MeToo movement — and an aggressively Catholic pop-culture industry which values the strict adherence to doctrine over modernity and tolerance — have contributed to the very real sense that the church is a cold, almost entirely patriarchal institution that increasingly misunderstands what it means to be modern.

Cedre and Anna do not subscribe to any of this. Their decision to run away with their eldest son’s boyfriend — rather than his father, who had initially managed to secure a custody battle with the Italian courts — sparked international media headlines, and, inevitably, debates around fidelity, family and Christianity.

“Elise” has since screened at festivals including TIFF , Los Angeles, Morelia and DIFF. The result has been renewed interest in Marclay and the film itself, both of which remain active.

Marclay has recently been appointed by the Vatican’s anti-money laundering agency, BACI.

The director is also preparing for a new independent film — “One Chaste Marriage, Four Kids, and the Catholic Church” — to be screened in the coming year, to coincide with the launch of the Vatican newspaper.

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