Philomena ★★★½

”I did not abandon my child!”

Philomena’s greatest achievement is that it takes a potentially sentimental and weepie true story and turns it into a powerful cinematic experience which for its entirety stays away from emotional manipulation. Brilliantly written and masterfully acted, Philomena is a moving journey to the heart of a mother with an endless love for her son and an unfaltering faith in God, it offers one of the most precise and delicate analyses of different approaches toward religion and faith and with a topnotch score from Alexandre Desplat it is a film that will not be easily forgotten.

For most part Philomena is about the relationship between the journalist Martin Sixsmith and the simple Irish lady, Philomena Lee. Most of the drama and comedy of the film comes out of their encounters, they own two different perspectives, one is a quite traditional woman believing in God and the redeeming power of religion, the other a more or less pessimistic journalist who believes that he should ask questions about everything and never accept things that he can’t understand, their journey to find Philomena’s son puts these opposing views against each other and after so many arguments about so many things, from the basic behaviors of Martin in society to his beliefs, finally they reach an unspoken agreement and mutual respect.

One thing that makes Philomena an important movie is its unique and brave portrayal of various approaches to religion: for Martin there’s no such thing as God or Catholicism, for the Nuns religion is a tool of suppressing those – like young Philomena – who commit sins and defy the teachings of the church, their religion is inflexible and it is filled with hatred and disgust. And then we have Philomena who sees religion as a tool for inner peace, without religion her life turns into a misery and she sees it as an act of love for other human beings, so unlike what many people say I believe Philomena is an utterly religious film, its definition of religious acts and thoughts may differ from what some people like to see but its portrayal of the forgiveness of Philomena and her eventual peace and mental satisfaction which is achieved by having true and pure faith in a higher power is one of the most relaxing images of religion and its saving powers in modern cinema.

Judi Dench is the heart and soul of Philomena, she portrays the little Irish lady with much precision and gives us a simple yet surprisingly deep and at times even unpredictable character whose only wish in life is to see his son and in the end we, like Martin himself, learn to respect her strength and faith. Dench is great when it comes to portraying various emotions, from hope to despair, from wonder to indifference and from euphoria to sadness. One of the best performances of the past year.

Like his 2006 film The Queen Stephen Frears shows that he is a master of narrating true stories in the most inspiring way, he never puts a foot wrong and with the help of a smart screenplay from Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan manages to give us one of the most stirring films of the year, Philomena is one of those films that will remind you that cinema is an unrivaled medium when it comes to portraying mankind’s deepest emotions.

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