Despite gorgeous visuals and provocative scenes, this mind-bending thriller proves to be unpromising.
As a bad Catholic, I highly anticipated the adaptation of the metaphysical novel, The Man who was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton, into a supernatural and psychological thriller commenting on the corruption of the Catholic Church. As the directorial debut of Hungarian director and writer, Balazs Juszt, it is obvious that there were high aims for this piece. It is too bad, then, that the film is such a disappointment.
Starring François Arnaud as Father Smith, an incredibly attractive priest struggling with the temptation of sin whilst performing a job which Juszt wants the audience to know is mundane. That is, until Smith commits an incredibly blasphemous act with a woman known only as Saturday (Ana Uluru) and is sent from Boston to the Vatican City, where he is kept in a kind of clerical rehab and given the task of infiltrating an anti-religious anarchist group by his mentor, Charles (Jordi Mollà). It is at this moment when the film most resembles the novel, but also the moment when all of the themes of religious and state corruption and morality fall into a tangled chaotic mess.
It is the plot, which lets the film down the most. The novel is confusing, so I correctly assumed that the film would be as well. However, Juszt goes too far. He quickly introduces plot twists without allowing the audience to follow the protagonist’s thought pattern, but then mind-numbingly recreates all scenes with alternative flashbacks. While the decision to set the film in both modern-day and fascist Italy was an interesting one, there was no discernable reason for doing so, and ultimately it muddles the thematic points that Juszt is making. It feels like Juszt is trying to wedge too many ideas into this adaptation, when he should have let the material breathe with his original idea.
The saving grace of the film is its beautiful visuals, and the cinematographer, Guy Livneh, should be commended for his efforts. At every moment there is immense religious symbolism, and there are times when we can truly feel how inescapable his faith is for Father Smith. However, this is sullied by the determination to make the film salacious at any cost. For example, all sexual scenes are framed by the cross. Similar to the flashbacks to fascist Italy, I found myself wondering at times if there was a need for some of these scenes or if they were just cheap thrills to distract the audience from the messy plot.
At its best, The Man Who Was Thursday is a beautifully shot film with an interesting premise. However, at its worst, the plot of this film trips over itself in a rush to deliver an action-packed thriller that deconstructs religion, morality, and fascism. Ultimately, Juszt’s debut film was a let-down, there was just too much trying to be achieved for it to be enjoyable.
The Man who was Thursday, directed by Balazs Juszt, was shown as part of the Austin Film Festival 2016, and is pending distribution. Certificate TBC.