The Triumph: a tale of two films
Yesterday’s post about viewing The Triumph attracted the attention of the film’s director, Sean Bloomfield, who has invited feedback.
Today’s post is, therefore, something of an open letter to Sean. I hope others who have watched the film will not only comment, but also disagree with some of my observations. Without those corrections, this review will be deficient.
The Triumph is an excellent movie. I’m saying that at the outset because the rest of this review is quite critical, and I don’t want to obscure the fact that I liked the film very much. The thing is though, I think it can be even better, and it’s for that reason that I post these criticisms.
I think there are two different films in The Triumph, and each film is struggling to vie over the other. It’s hard to explain in writing, but fortunately, the point is illustrated by two trailers freely available online.
In one corner, we have a documentary film on the history and messages of the Medjugorje apparitions. It’s an okay documentary. It won’t change the minds of sceptics, but it will edify believers. It’s this documentary film which is promoted in the official trailer:
In the other corner, we have a film about a 28-year-old recovering addict and his conversion. It’s an engrossing and compelling story, well told. This is the film promoted in the opening two and half minutes of this video:
This is the film which impressed me most. It has the potential to profoundly impact people — especially young people — who are searching for meaning. I’d like to see this conversion story recut and liberated from the co-existing documentary film.
As it stands now, The Triumph is too long. It tries to do too much, and it doesn’t know its audience. As I watched the film, I asked myself again and again, how would the average secondary school student react to this part?
What follows are my suggestions on how to improve the film, so that it is focused squarely on a younger audience struggling to identify their place in the Divine Plan.
- Some of the early scenes situate Medjugorje within the political history of the Cold War, and later scenes evoke apocalyptic themes. These are peripheral to Ben’s story, so they’re the first things I’d cut. Honestly, I think anyone who is moved by this film will do their own research on Medjugorje post-viewing. The Triumph should limit itself to be an introduction to Medjugorje, not an exposition.
- The film is very good at portraying Medjugorje’s appeal to youth, but by shortening this section, it could be improved. I cringed at the Woodstock reference, and winced at the scenes of dancing nuns, etc. The audience around me loved this stuff — but it was an older audience. A younger audience, I think, would find it awkward. To a young person, that sort of spectacle is fun and funny when they and their friends are engaged in it, caught up in the moment. Watching from afar though, it’s just lame. On the other hand, the witness of local youth walking hours and hours to reach Medjugorje, and the interviews with young pilgrims, was very effective.
- The American priest, who knows Ben personally, is fantastic when he’s on message, speaking about humility, mercy, conversion, etc. He’s very funny when he jokes at his own expense and takes off annoying pilgrims, but he’s not so great when he takes off The Simpsons and SouthPark. Again, the cinema audience loved this, but I’m not sure a younger audience would. Since these jokes are peripheral to Ben’s story, they’re better left on the cutting room floor.
- Ben’s trip to the Cenacolo community is one of the film’s greatest moments, and his visit to the Orthodox monastery is good too. But his visit to the Islamic mosque is less compelling. The interviews with the local imam — the Muslim counterpart to Evelyn Waugh’s Modern Churchman apparently — is a disservice to Islam, and a disservice to the film.
My favourite parts of the film are the two penultimate chapters. Ben’s meeting with Mirjana is very powerful. I’m still undecided on the authenticity of Medjugorje, but I was very impressed with Mirjana. She speaks and acts with authority. It is manifestly evident that she has a deep interior life.
Even better is the exposition, as Ben is preparing to leave Medjugorje, on the love of God, the grace of conversion, the science of man’s search for meaning, the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart. This is pitch-perfect, as is the treatment of Ben’s post-Medjugorje exploits and subsequent discernment.
Let me repeat: The Triumph is an excellent film, which any Catholic would appreciate, whatever your stance on Medjugorje. Speaking personally, I’m determined now to visit the site of such beautiful conversions.
I hope my criticisms aren’t a discouragement to potential viewers. If you can see it, I suggest you do. If you have seen it, please tell me where I’m wrong in the comments below!