Matters are different in Eastern European countries where Christianity, and especially Catholicism, remain deeply rooted in social institutions. In these settings, art still has the capacity to shock and divide. In 2018, the Polish film Clergy (Kler) generated something like a cultural crisis in that country. In a land where religion is deeply intertwined with national identity, the film showed multiple forms of clerical misconduct and concealment, with priestly crimes ranging from child sexual abuse to misconduct with adult women, to embezzlement and alliances with organized crime. The resulting controversy sparked calls for the film to be banned, but it also encouraged many complaints of actual abuse to be reported and publicized.
It appears that apart from monastic settings, churches are generally seen as threatening and deeply suspect places. Even with all the nightmarish images, however, filmmakers keep returning almost despite themselves to core elements of the Judeo-Christian story. I would highlight two examples, each quirky and far removed from traditional Hollywood Bible epics. The bizarre French-Belgian comedy The Son of Joseph (2016) shows a son searching for his father in a narrative explicitly following a biblical structure, drawing both on the story of Abraham and Isaac and the Nativity. In its weird way, we might call it a parable. Also set in the present day is The Blind Christ (2017), a visually gorgeous Chilean film focused on another kind of quest. After receiving a revelation, a young man—Christ or a prophet?—has to cross a desert to undertake a healing miracle, and his journey involves encounters with many ordinary people, and the stories they tell.
As we enter the second century of Christian cinema, after an especially vibrant decade of cinema, we can say that filmmakers, while anything but uncritical of the faith, still find it a rich vein to mine.