Short Takes 

This week in local theaters.

Constantine's Sword, Reprise

CONSTANTINE’S SWORD X marks the spot, literally, where Christianity and the Catholic Church ensured the centuries of religious hatred and anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust. So argues James Carroll in his 2001 book Constantine’s Sword and this searching, intellectually lively documentary—a pail of philosophical and spiritual gasoline (to borrow one of the movie’s metaphors) that its host/author approaches with a blowtorch. Carroll, the former priest turned National Book Award-winning novelist, journalist and memoirist, claims the die was cast in the year 312, when Constantine I claimed his decisive Roman victory under the sign of the labarum. Once the cross displaced life-giving emblems (fish, shepherds) as the symbol of Christianity, the religion made Christ’s death its rallying point—providing a handy weapon against the fingered murderers, Europe’s thriving Jews. (In the sharpest of the movie’s recontextualized film clips, Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce takes the rap with a shrug.) How long could the damage linger? Fast-forward almost two millennia to the U.S. Air Force Academy in the evangelical hotbed of Colorado Springs, where Jewish cadets—including the children of a Reagan White House associate—face thousands of brass-sanctioned flyers for The Passion of the Christ and insistent proselytizing. Journeying from Colorado to Rome to Auschwitz, with his own family history as a running thread and director Oren Jacoby heightening the tone of moral imperative, Carroll runs the risk of conducting a Gray Line whirlwind tour of religious intolerance. But if his film is more a provocative personal inquiry than a reportorial knockout punch, it pokes needed holes in the concept of papal infallibility and provides historical context for the dangers of linking the church and military. If nothing else, it demonstrates why we should feel cold shivers whenever President George W. Bush bandies the term “crusade.” —Jim Ridley (Opens Friday at The Belcourt)

REPRISE Joachim Trier’s dazzlingly kinetic tale of two aspiring Norwegian cult novelists is bounded by fantasies of what might have become of the friends and literary competitors after the publication of their first novels. But the entire film plays out in the conditional tense, a bold experiment in narrative and style that in less passionate or skilled hands might well have ended up as the wank that so many pomo novice filmmakers, drunk on technique and existential bombast, have to get off their chests before they give up or get down to business. Indeed, Reprise—whose splintered form organically mirrors the mental life of its young protagonists and their crowd, lovers of punk bands, cult novelists and Henry James—is precisely about the tension between alienation and belonging, ambition and pretension, the chasm between dreams and reality. Trier, who’s distantly related to that other adventurous Trier (Lars von), doesn’t want you “making sense” of the ups and downs of sensitive, tragic Phillip and goofy, perennially smiling Erik, played respectively by doctor/musician Anders Danielsen Lie and advertising copywriter Espen Klouman-Hoiner. But Reprise—a masculine story whose women come off best—is less a hermeneutical finger in your face (though it aims wonderfully low blows at literary celebrity) than a savage, funny, tender, tragic and strangely beautiful riff on growing up in a broken world. —Ella Taylor (Opens Friday at The Belcourt)

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