We live in a secular world and cinema is part of that secular edifice. There is no expectation, in modern times, that filmmakers should be believers – any more than we would expect that to be the case of novelists, poets and painters. Yet for all that this is true, many of the greatest directors of classic European cinema (the period from the end of World War II to roughly the middle of the 1980s) were passionately interested not only in the spiritual life but in the complexities of religion itself. In his new book Mark Le Fanu examines religion, and specifically Christianity, not as the repository of theological dogma but rather as an energizing cultural force – an ‘inflexion’ – that has shaped the narrative of many of the most striking films of the twentieth century. Discussing the work of such cineastes as Eisenstein and Tarkovsky from Russia; Wajda, Zanussi and Kieslowski from Poland; France’s Rohmer and Bresson; Pasolini, Fellini and Rossellini from Italy; the Spanish masterpieces of Buñuel, and Bergman and Dreyer from Scandinavia, this book makes a singular contribution to both film and religious studies.
Style is one of the remarkable aspects of Dr Le Fanu's book. It is beautifully free from useless technicalities and the clotted syntax that afflicts many academic writers ... [he has] an ability to convey the thrust of a film that the reader might not have seen, and an openness to directors' ideas that might be uncongenial to the author ... gripping. * The Telegraph * In this superb cultural history, Mark Le Fanu considers the religious impulse that distinguishes so much European cinema in its golden age from the second world war up to the 1980s ... Le Fanu's wonderful survey, with its aphoristic grace and erudition lightly worn, is from start to finish a delight to read. * The Spectator * [There is] much of fascination here for a general reader ... [This book] has not only stimulated and educated, but led to my seeking out copies of four films that Le Fanu makes seem especially fascinating: Bergman's Winter Light, Bunuel's Simon of the Desert, Zanussi's Spirala and Dreyer's Day of Wrath. These purchases prove this deeply-felt treatise also to be a work of evangelism. * The Tablet * Clearly and thoughtfully written, with thankfully no film studies jargon, this book is one to be truly grateful for. * Catholic Herald * The substance of Believing in Film is an auteurist, country-by-country survey of the place of the Christian religion among the output of European directors during the golden age of art cinema from the time of World War II up to the end of the 1980s. The author's criterion for inclusion is not that a film should exhibit, or that a director should possess, faith, but only that the film should evidence a sympathy for Christianity, even when criticising its pretensions. One of the pleasures of tourism for the thinking traveller is the appreciation of different European countries' attitudes to what remains of their religion, and that pleasure is replicated and enhanced in this book by the author's understated and sensitive discussion of favourite films, based on a life-time of critical discernment. For Le Fanu is one of those nuanced and thoughtful people who, while rejecting extremes, is not embarrassed to confess that he remains open to the 'still-living truths of Christianity'. * Standpoint Magazine * Are we all still Christian? Or at least unwilling to stop framing the world in a Christian narrative? Mark Le Fanu's compelling and courageous account of European cinema is an invitation to think of films in a different light, and to explore a marvellous repertoire of films everyone ought to know better. From Pavel Lungin's The Island to Ermanno Olmi's The Fiances, Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds to Bunuel's Nazarin, Le Fanu ably shows how saturated our Western imagination is in such notions as sin and sacrifice, predestination and redemption, how frequently, even in the work of atheists and agnostics, epiphanies, miracles and resurrections occur. Proceeding from one engaging account to another, Believing in Film is a timely reminder of the resilience and narrative fertility of our Christian tradition. * Tim Parks, novelist and Associate Professor of English, IULM University, Milan, Italy * Mark Le Fanu, who "endured a Catholic upbringing during the 1950s in the north of Scotland", has written a lucid and highly readable study of the role of religion - and specifically, the Christian religion - in classic European cinema. His thesis, unfashionable in certain quarters but cogently argued, that religion and culture are inseparable, takes in not only expected figures like Bresson and Tarkovsky, but also such avowed atheists as the Spanish director Luis Bunuel. Altogether this book offers many penetrating insights, such as will rivet the attention - and challenge the assumptions - of even the most irreligious reader. * Philip Kemp, film critic and Lecturer in the Department of Journalism, University of Leicester, UK *