MOLOKAI: THE STORY OF FATHER DAMIAN
Based on the life of Father Damien (David Wenham), a Belgian priest who volunteered to set up a parish on Molokai, the Hawaiian island home of a leper colony in the late 19th century. His dedication and care changed the lives of the suffering lepers before medication and humanity caught up with their plight. He is not helped by the Catholic hierarchy of Fr Fousnel (Derek Jacobi) or even Bishop Maigret (Leo McKern) and definitely not by Prime Minister Gibson (Sam Neill). But Hawaiian Princess Liliukalani (Kate Ceberano) is much more sympathetic.†
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The most eclectic cast ever assembled by Paul Cox Ė and one of the most unusual mix by any director Ė delivers a terrific ensemble piece full of the sort of hard earned humanity that Cox the filmmaker thrives on. With this, possibly his most commercially straight forward film, Cox has drawn a remarkably effective portrait of a man who may well be canonised one day (heís already beatified) without making him one dimensionally saintly. Itís the filmís great achievement that David Wenham creates a consistently rounded and flawless portrait of a man who is driven by his humanity. Yes, heís a priest, but itís not his holy orders that make him what he is: itís the man who glorifies his holy orders. Itís a riveting portrait, in which acting is invisible, from the faultless Belgian accent (a tough one) to the window into his soul. Production design, special make up (Frampton Institue of Make Up with others), great music and truly splendid Martinelli lighting cinematography brings the story to life with power and passion. Whatever the on-set fights and dramas in the making of the film might have been, this Paul Cox cut of the movie is a gem. See it on the big screen if you can.
Note: It opened in Belgium (where it was financed) in March 1999 and screened in the Montreal and Toronto film festivals the same year.
Review by Louise Keller:
Profoundly moving and affecting, Molokai is a heartbreaking portrayal of an extraordinary man. Itís an inspiring story, and although times have changed, there are aspects of human behaviour that have not, and still ring true. Itís a humbling tale and John Brileyís script (he won an Academy Award for Gandhi), is simple and without false manipulation. Paul Coxís passion in telling this story is evident, and the cast list reads as impressively as a Robert Altman ensemble piece. Father Damianís story is one of faith and dedication, and his work with the lepers of Molokai resonates as true selflessness. The emotional journey we take is as steep and rugged as the volcanic mountains of Molokai, this staggeringly beautiful island that found its genesis over a million years ago by two erupting volcanoes which pushed through the ocean floor. The contrast between the natural beauty of the island with its cobalt blue waters and unforgiving terrain and the devastation and helplessness of its leper inhabitants could not be greater. Father Damian brought them comfort, respect, hope and salvation to many, irrespective of their religious persuasion. In the performance of his life, David Wenham is totally transformed and becomes Father Damian in every way. The complex, nasal Belgian accent is not an easy one to master, and Wenham is magnificent. One of the most memorable scenes takes place on a dinghy, when the only way that Damian (now isolated on the island) can make his confession is to shout it in French to the Bishop, who is kept at arms length. It is a shocking scene, but only one of many which are so moving that they are almost too painful to bear. This is a film that involves you not only on a personal level, but makes us reflect on the larger issues concerning behaviour of our fellow man. Kris Kristofferson, Sir Derek Jacobi, Leo McKern, Sam Neill, Peter O'Toole, Aden Young, Tom Wilkinson, Chris Haywood and Kate Agnew Ė they all contribute greatly in superb cameos, with a special mention to Kate Ceberano, whose unaccompanied rendition of Aloha Ďoe (Until We Meet Again) will break your heart. Molokai is a stirring and humbling film that you will never forget.
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DAVID WENHAM INTERVIEW by Andrew L. Urban
MOLOKAI: THE STORY OF FATHER DAMIAN (PG)
(Belgium, Netherlands, Australia)
CAST: David Wenham, Sir Derek Jacobi, Kris Kristofferson, Leo McKern, Sam Neill, Peter O'Toole, Aden Young, Tom Wilkinson, Kate Ceberano, Chris Haywood, Alice Kriege, Kate Agnew and the resident of Kalaupapa
PRODUCER: Grietje Lammertyn, Tarsicius Vanhuysse
DIRECTOR: Paul Cox
SCRIPT: John Briley, Hilde Eynikel (book Damiaan)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Nino Martinetti ACS
EDITOR: Kristina Hamilton, John Scott, Ludo Troch
MUSIC: Paul Grabowsky, Wim Mertens
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jan Petitjean
RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 20, 2002
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: AV Channel
VIDEO RELEASE: January 15, 2003