Last night, our library showed Ostrov — a popular movie in Russia that did well at Sundance. When I first heard about this movie (I’ve forgotten where, now), I knew I wanted to see it.
Somewhere in Northern Russia in a small Russian Orthodox monastery lives a very unusual man. His fellow-monks are confused by his bizarre conduct. Those who visit the island believe that the man has the power to heal, exorcise demons and foretell the future. However, he considers himself unworthy because of a sin he committed in his youth. The film is a parable, combining the realities of Russian everyday life with monastic ritual and routine.
Ostrov is steeped in (Russian) Orthodox monasticism, so well over a third of it is prayers or psalms, but this is what monastics do: they pray. If orthopraxis were simply about living in a way that others could look at and say “Yes, Father Job is a Holy Man” then Father Job would be the center of attention in this film. Instead Father Job, like the prodigal son’s brother, seems jealous of Father Anatoli’s gifts. In the meantime, Father Anatoli, instead of living a blissfully pious life, is wracked with guilt and isn’t a very pleasant person to be around. He’s humble and gifted, to be sure, but he lacks intelligence and people skills. And that last part is precisely what makes the film so attractive to me. When he was asked why he was spending time with sinners, Jesus replied “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick.” Father Anatoli is clearly not a holy man, but he is blessed, and he blesses others. (I recommend this movie highly. Still, if you see it, read some of the comments on Amazon.com or IMDB. There are some parts where the subtitles are incorrect. For example, near the end of the movie, he asks someone “Will you take a confession?” and the subtitles translate this as “Do you want to go to confession?”)