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The Jewish Cardinal DVD Review

The Jewish Cardinal DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com The Jewish Cardinal (Le métis de Dieu)

US Theatrical Release: January 10, 2014 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Ilan Duran Cohan / Writers: Chantal de Rudder (original story & screenplay), Ilan Duran Cohen (screenplay)

Cast: Laurent Lucas (Cardinal Jean-Marie Aaron "Lulu" Lustiger), Aurélien Recoing (Pope John Paul II), Audrey Dana (Fanny), Henri Guybet (Charles Lustiger), Pascal Greggory (Cardinal Albert Decourtray), Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet (Father Julian Cramiel), Bruno Todeschini (Théo Klein), Nathalie Richard (Mother Superior), David Migeot (Guillaume Bussières), Philippe Faure (Monseigneur Fernandez), Mirza Halilovic (Cardinal Macharski), Patrick Massiah (René Samuel Sirat), Alex Skarbek (Father Kristof), Pierre-Alain Chapuis (Ady Steg), Maurice Antoni (Rabbi Kaplan)

1.85.1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (French), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (French)
Subtitles: English / Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: May 20, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $24.95 / Clear Keepcase / Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

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You expect a biopic called The Jewish Cardinal to be weighty and dramatic. At times, this French film directed and co-written by Ilan Duran Cohen is. But it also has a lightness to it,
a bold fearlessness of sacrilege despite the fact that its second leading character was recently canonized by the Catholic Church.

Jean-Marie Lustiger (Laurent Lucas) was born in Paris to Jewish parents. As a young teenager, he converted to Catholicism. When the film opens in 1979, he has just been appointed the Bishop of Orléans by the recently installed Pope John Paul II (Aurélien Recoing). Lustiger is pleased with the promotion; Orléans is where he was baptized. He's not happy, however, with the Catholic press' coverage of him. He tries to set the record straight by claiming he remains a Jew (like Jesus and the rest of Lustiger's family) in spite of his Catholic faith. The Pope isn't thrilled with that declaration. A Rabbi of Paris asks Lustiger to stop identifying himself as Jewish. Lustiger's father, Charles (Henri Guybet), whom Auschwitz made a widower, seems openly disappointed by his son.

In "The Jewish Cardinal", Father Lustiger (Laurent Lucas) takes a moment to remember the pain the Jewish people (including his own mother) suffered at Auschwitz.

Nonetheless, the passionate Lustiger never wavers from his stance. He becomes a close friend of the Pope and is promoted to Archbishop of Paris, a Cardinal, and a papal advisor. A progressive priest, Lustiger adapts to an increasingly secular world, embracing radio and trying to get young people interested in attending Church.

The defining issue of the Cardinal's career arises in the mid-1980s and occupies much of the film's second half. The establishment of a convent at Auschwitz is deemed offensive and insensitive by many Jews. Lustiger is appalled to discover that the Polish do not fully comprehend the atrocities that occurred at the concentration camp that claimed his own mother's life. The cardinal's dual affiliations put him in a unique position to address the issue, which carries political considerations for Poland that weigh heavily on the Pope's actions or lack thereof.

Pope John Paul II (Aurélien Recoing) proudly shows off his new bulletproof Popemobile to his friend and advisor, Lustiger (Laurent Lucas).

We rarely see film portraits of religious figures that aren't in some way designed to promote faith. For that matter, American cinema doesn't much like to tackle religion,
knowing it's a touchy subject prone to offend both the devout and non-believers. The Jewish Cardinal doesn't shy from the subject. It celebrates Lustiger's life without beatifying him. Viewers aren't meant to have their faith reaffirmed or challenged.

Duran Cohen does an admirable job of avoiding the stuffiness and rigidity that many associate with organized religion. Lustiger has a hot temper and drives a moped until his parishioners get him a car. John Paul II, the holiest man known to modern civilization, is portrayed with humanity. He walks fast in his white sneakers, calls for pierogies and shots, and spontaneously undresses for a short race in the swimming pool he had installed. Despite papal infallibility and the fact that as of last month, he is now a Saint, John Paul II is still presented as a human being with emotions and opinions of which you can be critical. While the film stays entirely respectful of both traditions that shape Lustiger, it's not afraid to raise questions or spark debate.

Among biopics, this accessible drama feels closer to Amadeus and Marie Antoinette than Gandhi or Lawrence of Arabia. Lustiger's life doesn't lend to some sprawling epic and the twenty-eight years that pass in this film do so subtly and in organic succession, with one big gap between 1988 and the Cardinal's final scene in 2006.

Though apparently it just premiered on television in its native France, The Jewish Cardinal received a theatrical release in North America from Film Movement. This unrated foreign film managed to gross over $125,000, a respectable haul given its theater count peaked at four and currently stands at three. As of this week, a wider audience can discover this with a Region 1 DVD released to general retail outside of the distributor's signature Film of the Month club.

Fun fact: the film's original French title, Le métis de Dieu, literally translates to something like "The Half-Caste of God."

VIDEO and AUDIO

The DVD's picture quality is fine for standard definition. The 1.85:1 presentation doesn't suffer from any specific issues besides a general softness and a slight excess of compression. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, which you'll have to select as a 2.0 mix is default, doesn't offer much in the way of surround effects, but it keeps dialogue crisp and intelligible. The player-generated English subtitles are perfectly implemented and grammatically sound.

Director Ilan Duran Cohen is the only one whose biography requires multiple pages. An Orthodox Jewish boy befriends a pig in the bonus short "Kosher."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Film Movement's standard extras slate begins with biographies of director Ilan Duran Cohan

and two lead actors, Laurent Lucas and Aurélien Recoing.

As usual, the company does right by including the featured film's trailer (1:39).

On a Trailers page, additional ones for Corpo Celeste, In the Name Of, and Aliyah join the disc-opening ones for Hitler's Children, Room 514, and A Bottle in the Gaza Sea.

"About Film Movement" holds some text as well as the disc-opening promo for the company's Film of the Month Club.

Finally, the obligatory bonus short film is Kosher (9:33), a dialogue-less 2010 French production directed by British filmmaker Isabelle Stead. In it, a little pig enters the life of a young, lonely Orthodox Jewish boy, until his family kicks it out upon its discovery. It's kind of stupid and suffers from really poor video quality.

The menu takes the company's standard approach, placing the uniform listings over a scored, ordinary montage.

The final extras are part of the packaging. As usual, the distributor's preferred clear keepcase leave room for the reverse side of the cover artwork to include some printed notes. They devote a good deal of text to explaining the film's selection and biographizing Cardinal Lustiger.

Cardinal Lustiger (Laurent Lucas) carries a cross like Jesus as believers follow him in procession.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you were to judge The Jewish Cardinal by its cover, you'd probably assume it to be some supposedly inspirational, actually boring biopic. But this French drama gladly proves to be rather engaging, accessible, and a little fascinating. The serviceable DVD is only as good as the film it holds, but that film is just good enough to recommend that interested parties give it a look.

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Reviewed May 24, 2014.



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