“God isn’t evil. God is very tired, and when we are tired we make big mistakes.”
Carmen, written and directed by Valerie Buhagiar, is a story of both repression and awakening. Some people are silenced, but may have blessings to share if allowed to be heard. When things seem the darkest, it may be that something new will dawn.
In Malta, the tradition has been that when a man becomes a priest, his sister follows him to the rectory to serve as his housekeeper. Carmen (Natascha McElhone) has been doing this since she was sixteen. She has had no real life other than servitude. She is not allowed to find love, or to grow as a person.
When her brother dies, she has nowhere to go. The monsignor offers her only platitudes of a great reward in heaven. (But, of course, she must die first.) The sister of the incoming priest is pushing Carmen out so she can be in charge. She manages to sneak a key to the church, and sleeps there. When one day she is sitting in the confessional, a woman comes in and thinks it is the new priest. Carmen replies with wisdom. Others follow, celebrating the way this new priest handles things, even though he never holds mass.
When Carmen takes some of the church fixtures into the city to pawn, she meets Paulo, a handsome young man who is helpful. Carmen begins to discard her old life (symbolized by a change of clothes). Now she begins to expand her view of what her life can be. But she also is discovering that she has something to share with the world other than keeping her brother happy. She longs to ring the church bell, but that too is restricted to men.
We might be tempted to dismiss this as a relic of a tradition in an isolated situation. But it serves as a reminder of many ways that women have been silenced and oppressed through the years. And the fact that we see Carmen coming to life by doing the forbidden act of hearing confessions is a reminder that the church has culpability in that oppression. For Carmen (and in time, the community) this act exemplifies the importance of being empowered to exercise one’s gifts.
A part of her wisdom is seen in the quotation above. Given her circumstances, she might well have come to view God less than kind. She does not want others to reject God, rather she wants them to understand that perhaps God is just overwhelmed with us all. It’s easier to accept a God who may make a mistake from time to time, than for him to not care about us.
I found it interesting that each step that Carmen takes towards her awakening is preceded by a pigeon leading her someplace. The dove (a cousin to pigeons) has long been a sign of the Spirit. The Spirit, even if not the church, enable those who follow to do God’s work in new and exciting ways.
Carmen is in select theaters and on VOD.
Photos courtesy of Good Deed Entertainment.