541: Chicago film festival celebrates children’s spiritual vision of our world

Logo of Chicago International Children's Film Festival
All week long, we’re asking readers a nearly universal question: What does “Heaven” look like? Here’s a link to our Introduction on Monday—and tomorrow we’ll dig deeper into “Eternal Life” with best-selling author Bishop John Shelby Spong.
Through a Glass Darkly     TODAYwe’ve got news from Chicago about the opening this week of the Oct. 22-to-Nov. 1 Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, one of the most exciting spots on the planet each year for glimpsing the world through children’s eyes. Thousands of children, parents, teachers and media professionals converge on Chicago each year for a showcase of the world’s top films made—for, by and about—children.
    And, guess what!?! One of the top films in Chicago this year is a story about a child’s-eye view of death—and what happens to us after death. It’s a film from Norway, co-starring Liv Ullman, called “Through a Glass Darkly.” (No, it’s not the Ingmar Bergman film from 1961 of the same title. This is new!)
    The title comes from 1 Corinthians 13:11-12, a letter St. Paul wrote 2,000 years ago describing the process of maturing in one’s faith: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know—even as I am known.”
    The creative twist in this film is that, sometimes, when children die of cancer—these children develop wisdom and vision far beyond their years.

Cecilie in Through a Glass Darkly 2008     Ouch! Yes, this film is about a child who dies of cancer. But, it’s really a film about vision and spiritual imagination. This may sound bizarre, but: “Through a Glass Darkly” is the happiest, brightest, most uplifting cancer-related drama I can recall seeing over the years. It’s not a false happiness. It’s a joyfulness that illustrates what it truly means to accept “grace” in one’s life, I’d say.
    Just think about the creative elements this movie gives us:
    Gorgeous outdoor scenes both in frozen, hilly Scandinavia and in the sun-drenched shores of the Mediterranean.
    Young love unfolding between a girl and a boy from two different cultures who are deeply in love for the first time.
    Liv Ullmann as a wise and funny Grandma reading aloud from beloved passages of scripture to the main character.
    A new kind of angel—and that’s saying something considering the hundreds of Hollywood angels we’ve seen through the years.
    And, a teen-aged actress who plays the dying main character without a moment’s effort wasted on trying to pull at our heartstrings. She’s focused entirely on love, the outdoor world, skiing, swimming, her affection for her Grandma—and her odd-ball relationship with this new angel who drops into her life.
    Hopefully, this conveys what a strange and wonderful movie this is.

    Right now, you can only see the movie in Chicago at 9 p.m. on Sunday, October 25—an example of the very special moments you’ll find for more than a week at the Film Festival. Check out the CICFF Web site for more. If the film is released on DVD, we’ll certainly let you know.

Girl and boy in Through a Glass Darkly 2008     For now, here are a few of gems from the film to carry with you through your week.
    1.) Adults? Don’t make the mistake of assuming children don’t have spiritual lives. Their rich spiritual imagination is charted through a century of literature and research by scholars like Dr. Robert Coles. The new film, once again, drives home this important insight.
    At one point, as the main character, Cecilie, is losing strength and Christmas is approaching, her mother assumes that Cecilie is focused mainly on the gift giving. “We want Christmas to be as nice as possible for you, so we will skip church this year,” the mother says, thinking this will be delightful news for the girl.
    Hardly! Cecilie is horrified and insists the family go to church—and follow all the family traditions!

    2.) It’s easy to forget what “grace” we receive each day by simply waking up each morning. You can’t watch this movie without feeling happier about your life—wherever you stand or sit in life, right now.
    The film is full of take-away lines emphasizing the need for daily gratefulness.
    Here’s one: Cecilie begins to realize the precious nature of human life, even as it is fleetingly passing before her. She tries to explain what she’s feeling and finally bursts out with: “Just being born is like receiving the whole world as a gift!”
    Yes it is, now that you mention it Cecilie!

    3.) Finally, take the words of sages like Jesus seriously when they say things like—the Kingdom of God belongs to children. There truly is a clarity of vision in childhood that Cecilie captures in this movie. At one point, when she is just meeting the strange new angel who accompanies her through various adventures, she tells the angel bitterly that “life is about grownups!”
    The angel disagrees: “Nonsense! Life is about being a child. Adults are only there because God doesn’t like to let children die.”

Liv Ullmann in Through a Glass Darkly 2008

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