Beliefnet
True, you won't find any NC-17 flicks here, but the Vatican's list of great films is more varied than you might think. The 45 movies are divided into three categories: Religion, Values and Art. Films that made the cut: Schindler's List, Stagecoach, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Andrei Rublev (1969) Russian production about a 15th-century monk (Anatoli Solonitzine) who perseveres in painting icons and other religious art despite the civil disruptions and cruel turmoil of his times. Director Andrei Tarkovsky visualizes brilliantly the story of a devout man seeking through his art to find the transcendent in the savagery of the Tartar invasions and the unfeeling brutality of Russian nobles. Subtitles. Stylized historical violence. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (Fox Lorber, $79.95)

Babette's Feast (1988) Screen version of a story by Isak Dinesen, set in a rugged fishing village in 1871 Denmark, shows the impact of a French housekeeper (Stephane Audran) on two pious sisters who carry on their late father's work as pastor of a dwindling religious flock. Danish director Gabriel Axel's understated but finely detailed work centers on the preparation and consumption of an exquisite Gallic meal, a sensuous labor of love which has a healing effect on the austere sect and the Frenchwoman who prepared it. Subtitles. Cerebral treatment. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G -- general audiences.(Orion, $19.98)

Ben-Hur (1959) Director William Wyler's classic Hollywood epic follows the Jewish prince of the title (Charlton Heston) after he's betrayed by his boyhood Roman friend (Stephen Boyd) and subjected to much misery until finally achieving retribution for all his suffering. The narrative's conventional melodrama is transformed by the grand scale of its spectacle, especially the chariot race, and by the stirring performances of its principals who manage to overcome the story's cliches and stereotypes. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G -- general audiences.(MGM/UA, $29.98)

The Flowers of St. Francis (1950) Remarkable Italian production about the beginnings of the Franciscan Order as its founder sets the example of humility, simplicity and obedience for his first followers at Portiuncula, a little chapel near Assisi, from which they depart into the world to preach peace. Directed by Roberto Rossellini from a script co-written with Federico Fellini, the movie's form is as simple and sincere as the subject of the narrative which relates a series of little incidents realistically, yet with an infectious sense of joy marvellously conveyed by an anonymous cast of monks from a Roman monastery. Subtitles. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-I -- general patronage. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.(Facets Multimedia, $34.95)

Francesco (1989) Overwrought Italian production portrays St. Francis of Assisi (Mickey Rourke) as a spiritual agitator challenging the accepted values of his 13th-century contemporaries by embracing a life of utter poverty and simplicity. Director Liliana Cavani builds an elaborate picture of the period's social injustices but fails to evoke any convincing sense of religious conviction from Rourke's embarrassingly vacuous performance. English-language version. Occasional scenes of violence, desperate poverty and brief nudity. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents are strongly cautioned that some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (Hemdale, $89.95)

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1966) Straight-forward Italian dramatization of the evangelist's account of the life of Jesus and His message of salvation succeeds exceptionally well in placing the viewer within the Gospel events, avoiding the artificiality of most biblical movie epics. Director Pier Paolo Pasolini is completely faithful to the text while employing the visual imagination necessary for his realistic interpretation. Subtitles. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-I -- general patronage. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (Water Bearer, $24.95)

La Passion de Notre Seigneur Jesus-Christ (1905) Though better known for one-reel crime melodramas, movie pioneer Ferdinand Zecca (1863-1947) also produced this two-reel (c. 30 minutes) dramatization of Christ's Passion. Distributed by Pathe, France's leading motion picture company, it was reportedly quite popular in its time and was notable, according to film historian Georges Sadoul, for its "rudimentary" camera movements. (Not available on video)

A Man for All Seasons (1966) Engrossing drama of the last seven years in the life of Thomas More, Henry VIII's chancellor, who met a martyr's death rather than compromise his conscience during a period of religious turmoil. Robert Bolt's script is masterfully directed by Fred Zinnemann, with a standout performance by Paul Scofield in the title role, among other notable performances from a uniformly fine cast. The historical dramatization achieves an authentic human dimension that makes its 16th-century events more accessible and its issues more universal. Profoundly entertaining but heavy-going for children. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G -- general audiences. (Columbia TriStar, $19.95)

The Mission (1986) In the 1750s, the large and prosperous Jesuit Indian missions were divided between Spain and Portugal. In dramatizing these events, Robert Bolt's screenplay focuses not on the religous but on the sociopolitical dimension of the colonial era and its injustices. The epic production is visually splendid but Roland Joffe's direction is erratic and bogs down in contrasting a nonviolent priest (Jeremy Irons) and one (Robert De Niro) who leads the Indians against a colonial army. Although dramatically flawed, the work recalls a past that provides a context for current Latin American struggles. Some violence and ethnographic nudity. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. (Warner, $19.98)

Monsieur Vincent (1947) Lucid, moving account of St. Vincent de Paul's work among the poor and the oppressed in 17th-century France, from his first labors in a plague-ravaged village and his appeals to the conscience of the aristocracy to the founding of an order devoted to charitable works and his death in 1660. Director Maurice Cloche portrays the poverty of the times and the cruelty of the regime in starkly convincing fashion, providing a solid historical framework within which Pierre Fresnay's performance in the title role shines with a warm compassion and spiritual intensity which most viewers will find irresistably compelling. Subtitles. High on the list of great religious movies. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-I -- general patronage. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (Nostalgia, $29.95)

Nazarin (1958) Mexican story set in 1905 when a young priest comes into disfavor with his inflexible religious superiors, the civil authorities and even the poor among whom he tries to live a life of simplicity, poverty and charity. Though director Luis Bunuel's work is not very optimistic about the possibility of idealism winning over the world, it's not critical of religion, only pious hypocrisy. Subtitles. Perplexing themes. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-III -- adults. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (Connoisseur, $69.95)

Ordet (1954) Challenging Danish production about different kinds of faith and various sorts of miracles, one of which restores a dead woman to life. Directed by Carl Dreyer, the austere narrative centers on a farming family troubled by the madness of a son (Preben Lerdorff Rye) who believes he is Jesus Christ until, regaining his balance, his faith in God achieves the miracle which brings the story to a positive though less than convincing conclusion some may find disappointingly ambiguous. Mature themes. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-III -- adults.Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (Nostalgia, $24.95)

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) Silent screen masterpiece portraying the heresy trial, confession, recantation and execution of the Maid of Orleans (Maria Falconetti) in a performance of such emotional power that it still stands as the most convincing portrayal of spirituality on celluloid. Directed by Carl Dreyer, the work is essentially the interior epic of a soul, consisting largely of close-ups of Joan's face and those of her interrogators accomplished in a fashion which is never static as the camera explores the inner struggle between human frailities and spiritual strength. Some duplicitous churchmen, medicinal bloodletting and a restrained torture scene. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (Nostalgia, $29.95)

The Sacrifice (1986) Swedish production in which a group of adults and a child pass through a night of confusion and fear, including portents of a nuclear-devastated landscape. Director Andrei Tarkovsky's murky religious allegory about an aging writer's bargaining with God to save others relies upon long silences, ritualized dialogue and beautiful but static photography. Subtitles. A very personal film about love and compassion, the effect is strangely cold and distant. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. (Pacific Arts, $29.95)

Therese (1986) French dramatization of the life of St. Therese de Lisieux from age 15 when she joined a cloistered convent of Carmelite nuns to her death there 9 years later of tuberculosis. Director Alain Cavalier's impressionistic account of the young woman (luminously portrayed by Catherine Mouchet) who found personal joy, spiritual liberation and the sanctity of selfless simplicity within the restrictive traditions of an austere religious community will challenge contemporary viewers and confound some. The young may find its picture of 19th-century religious life more confusing than inspiring. Dubbed in English. The U.S. Catholic Conference classification is A-III -- adults. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (Palisades Home Video, 1-800-989-8576, $39.95)

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