Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Gael Garcia Bernal

Five Films Featuring the Priesthood


It’s an annual tradition; Oscar Season comes around and a Martin Scorcese picture is always sure to be getting plenty of buzz.  This year the film in question is Silence starring Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, Hacksaw Ridge), Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Inside Llewyn Davis), as missionary priests searching for their mentor (Liam Neeson) in feudal Japan. It’s not surprising that the movie has people talking; besides its all star pedigree, issues of faith particularly the priesthood often make for great cinematic drama. Consider the following.

Boys Town (1938) Spencer Tracy’s performance as Father Flanagan who founds a sanctuary for underprivileged and delinquent young boys named Boys Town, earned him an Oscar. The movie was nominated for four more Oscars and won for Best Original Story. It also brought a lot of public attention-and funding-for the real Father Flanagan’s work. Besides Tracy’s legendary performance, you also get Mickey Rooney, Henry Hull, and Gene Reynolds. Plus this was the movie, that originated, “He’s not heavy-he’s my brother!”

The Exorcist (1973) Directed by William Friedkin and based on the novel of the same name, this movie made pea soup a catch phrase and a certain set of steps at Georgetown University a place of pilgrimage. It’s not only considered not only one of the greatest scary movies of all time, but one of the greatest movies period, this one kicked off a whole genre of exorcism themed movies, none of which quite compare to the original.  In great part that’s because it not only has Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair’s iconic performances, but Max von Sydow as well as Father Merrin. But the movie’s emotional heart and soul comes from Jason Miller as the tormented Father Damien who’s suffered a crisis of faith after the death of his mother.

The Name of the Rose (1986) Jean Jacques Anand (The Lover, Enemy at the Gates) directed this Italian-French-German mystery drama was adapted from the Umberto Eco novel of the same name. Young novice Adso (Christian Slater is his very early years,) and his mentor Franciscan Friar William of Baskerville (Sean Connery in one of his more memorable non-Bond roles) in 1327, journey to a remote Italian abbey for a papal debate. The abbey in question houses one of the greatest libraries in Europe; it’s also astir from the recent suspicious death of one of the monks. More bodies turn up and William races to solve the mystery before the Inquisition is called in.  It won the Cesar Award for Best Foreign Film as well as two BAFTA awards including Sean Connery for Best Actor.

Black Robe (1991) Directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Double Jeopardy) this adaption of the Brian Moore novel tells the story of how young Jesuit priest Father LaForgue (Lothaire Bluteau best known to American audiences for his roles on 24 and Vikings) is sent to a distant Catholic mission in a Huron village. LaForgue is accompanied by non-Jesuit assistant Daniel (Aden Young of The Starter Wife and I, Frankenstein) as well as a group of Algonquin Indians. Along the way complications in the form of Daniel falling for an Algonquin girl, and interactions with other First Nation peoples who are less than sympathetic to Father LaForgue and his mission.  It is considered one of the best researched films featuring indigenous peoples and it includes dialogue spoken in the Cree, Mohawk, and Algonquin languages. It won the Genie Award for Best Canadian Film as well as Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor.

The Crime of Father Amaro (2002) Directed by Carlos Carrera and starring Gael Garcia Bernal (Babel, Y Tu Mama Tambien) as the titular father and Ana Claudia Talancon (Fast Food Nation, Love in the Time of Cholera) as the young girl he begins a passionate affair with.  As you can imagine it doesn’t end well.  The movie created a firestorm in Mexico and the Catholic Church actually attempted to ban it.  Despite or perhaps because of that, it became the biggest box office success in the country’s history and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Top photo from Bigstock

Desierto – Jonás Cuarón’s Visceral Film About the Immigration Experience


Fourteen Mexicans sit huddled in a battered truck. One girl reads the Bible, praying that she will safely reach the promised land. A young man pulls from his backpack a worn out teddy bear that plays a tune with a small voice saying, “I love you,” a memory of the son that waits for him in California.

Jonás Cuarón’s Desierto puts a face to the immigrant experience, all those individuals who, like so many before them, are willing to risk everything to come to America. Cuarón wrote the screenplay for Gravity, which his father, Alfonso, won an Academy Award for directing. Jonás not only directed Desierto, but was also writer, editor, and producer. The film has been a labor of love, taking him seven years to bring to the screen. “I took a trip through the U.S. Southwest where I encountered first-hand stories surrounding immigration and the often cruel and violent story of the migrant journey,” he said. “I was very moved and immediately felt compelled to outline the film – which happened before writing Gravity.” His father serves as a producer of the film.

The truck carrying the immigrants is still miles from the U.S. when it breaks down. Three men have been paid to take the Mexicans to the border. After reporting the truck problem, one is ordered by his boss to stay with the truck, while the other two will escort the group the rest of the way. Unfortunately, the trip will take them on foot through some of the harshest and most unforgiving land between Mexico and the U.S. (The film was actually shot in the state of Baja California Sur where, according to press information, the only access was by dirt roads, with no cellphone coverage, and temperatures in the triple-digits.) Cuarón’s desire to have the terrain share equal credit with the characters only adds to the film’s sense of isolation.


Gael García Bernal

The desert isn’t the only enemy the immigrants face. Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) has appointed himself the de facto border patrol. Rather than capture any immigrants he spies, however, he guns them down. “I used to love it here,” he tells his German shepherd, Watcher. “I hate it here. It’s messing with my brain. I’ve got to get out of this hell.” Having identified immigrants as the source of his unhappiness, Sam is ruthless, picking off his victims with his rifle equipped with a scope. Fueled by the liquor he’s been consuming, he shows neither glee nor remorse as the bodies begin to fall. One man who is injured but not dead, is finished off by Watcher, a gruesome sight.

Soon there are just two survivors, Moises (Gael García Bernal), the father desperate to get back to his son in California, and Adela (Alondra Hidalgo), whose mother wanted her to escape the dangerous situation in her village. She wonders out loud what her mother would think now, watching her and Moises fleeing a serial killer across the desert. Moises’ situation is particularly poignant. He had been living with his wife and son in Oakland when he was stopped because his car had a broken tail light. Although he had applied for a resident visa, “one thing led to another,” and he was soon sent back to Mexico.

Bernal, who has been acting in Mexico since childhood, is now making his mark in the U.S. This year he won a Golden Globe for playing a conductor in Amazon Prime’s Mozart in the Jungle. His performance in this film should raise his profile even more, on both sides of the border. His Moises isn’t the strongest of the group, but the more determined to survive in order to get back to his son. Morgan, whose resume is equally impressive, with credits on TV (ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, Showtime’s Weeds) and film (Watchman, Taking Woodstock), manages to make Sam more than a one-dimensional villain. In contrast to the immigrants, he’s the one without a country, someone who no longer fits in and lashes out with a vengeance at those he blames.

Desierto is an important film, particularly at such an important moment for our nation.

Desierto opens nationwide on October 14, 2016. In Spanish with English subtitles.

Top photo: (L to R) Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Gael García Bernal 

Photos courtesy of STX Entertainment