A newly digitized 1950's film on Fr. Damien of Molokai still offers a relevant message for today, remarked L'Osservatore Romano (LOR) on Friday. According to the Vatican newspaper, the film’s images not only show us the priest's life, but reveal "timeless and fundamentally human themes."
Titled “Molokai, la isla maldita" (Molokai, the damned island), the black and white film was made in 1959 by director Luis Lucia. It won awards in Spain for best film and for best director. LOR reported that the now-digitized movie is of interest not only to the library, as one of the first films filed in its film archives, but also to religious cinema as a whole.
Using the cinematic techniques typical of religious films of the mid-20th century, the film remembers Fr. Damien and his 16 years of work with lepers on Hawaii’s Island of Molokai until his death from leprosy in 1889. The Belgian priest, reported LOR, "represents a universal example of humanitarian aid and solidarity," battling "not only against leprosy but against prejudices."
The value of the film, the article goes on to explain, is its reflection on the figure of the priest in the language and context of 50 years ago, "shedding light on his devotion, the sacrifice and the hard work he must have confronted on the island..."
It continues to offer a "service to values and spirituality," they said, but, "most of all ... the merit of 'Molokai' is in its bringing to light an historic fact, making a character known to the greater public who really existed and showing a concrete reality that, as it is human, makes the spectator feel close by.
"Seeing this movie again today has value if one considers it (to be) cinema in service of the human, since it ... mirrors the culture of a society, brings up 'silenced' themes, underscores conflicts and problems and, at the same time, exposes timeless and fundamentally human themes like disease, family, children, the sense of community, the faith, need for God, marginalization, dignity and respect for the individual,” the paper continued.
The conventionally-made film is "dated," LOR concedes, but still is “sincere” and can be “an occasion to remember this priest and all of the men of the Church that, in faraway places, in painful realities or in forgotten hells, continue to fight for the dignity of each human being and to reveal, to those that wish to accept it, the love of God that is manifested through His creatures."
Fr. Damien of Molokai was canonized in October 2009.