Film discussion group screens ‘Shoes’

May 23, 2013
Anthony Quinn plays a Cold War pope in “The Shoes of the Fisherman.”

Rockland — St. Peter’s Episcopal Church invites the community to join its monthly film group for a showing and discussion of “The Shoes of the Fisherman” Wednesday, June 5. The group will gather at 6 p.m. Participants are encourage to bring their own bag supper or snacks; coffee will be provided. There is no charge for admission.

The 1968 film is set during the height of the Cold War. The protagonist Kiril Pavlovich Lakota (Anthony Quinn), having been set free after 20 years in a Siberian labor camp by his former jailor/now premier of the Soviet Union (Laurence Olivier), is sent to Rome where, through a strange twist of fate, he finds himself elected Pope as a compromise candidate in the midst of a pending nuclear crisis involving Russian, the United States and China.

Realizing that if the crisis continues, the cost would be a war that could ultimately rip the world apart, he seeks a way to convince the West as well as the Catholic Church to open up its resources to aid. At his papal coronation, he removes his tiara (in a gesture of humility) and states the intent to give away a majority of Church's riches.

A secondary plot involves the Pope’s relationship with a theologian and scientist, Father Telemond (Oskar Werner), based on real-life theologian Teilhard de Chardin. To Kiril’s deep regret and grief, in his official capacity he must allow the Holy Office to censure Telemond for his heterodox views. The shock of the censure contributes to the death of Father Telemond.

Based on a novel of the same title by Morris West, the story is inspired by the life of Ukrainian Catholic Cardinal Josyf Slipy, who was released by Nikita Khrushchev from a Siberian Gulag in 1963, the year of the novel's publication, after political pressure from Pope John XXIII and President John F. Kennedy, and arrived in Rome in time to participate in the Second Vatican Council. It also bears an uncanny resemblance to the reign of John Paul II (elected Pope after the publication of West’s novel). Like John Paul II, Kiril places great stock in the power of words and makes a memorable speech to that effect during a private summit with world leaders. This resonates with John Paul II’s faith in the spoken word, especially as voiced during his 1979 trip to Poland, when his words helped launch the Solidarity movement, dealing a substantial blow to the Iron Curtain.

The film raises considerations about the role of faith in shaping politics and the loneliness and difficulty of a Pope who “walks alone in the shoes of a fisherman” (a reference to St. Peter, the “rock” upon which the Church was founded). It also explores obedience and submission to spiritual authority despite disagreements or objections, whether it is the heterodox Fr. Telemond or the hardline Cardinal Leone (Leo McKern).

St. Peter’s, located at 11 White St., is the red shingled church between the public library and Rec Center (just off Union Street). The film series is an opportunity to explore films that explore issues of faith in our contemporary world.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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