Higher Ground (M)

Little seen, this phenomenal directorial debut from actor Vera Farmiga (Source Code), is an amazingly transcendent film about the nature of Christianity. Yes, you read that right. A mainstream film about Christianity.

More importantly, this film like many others could have come out with the gloves off and skewered its subject matter with brutal intensity. Instead, Farmiga has crafted an elegant character drama that happens to be about a woman who believes strongly in God.

Set in the ’70s, Carolyn Briggs and Tim Metcalfe’s screenplay is based on Briggs’ own memoir about a woman struggling with doubt. It follows Corinne, who grows up loving Jesus until family tragedy causes the disintegration of her parents’ marriage, at which time she drifts away from the church.

As a teenager she meets Ethan (Joshua Leonard), a musician, and they naively marry. When Ethan’s tour bus plunges into a lake and their baby is miraculously saved, the two find God.

Suddenly, their life is almost taken over by their faith, by church services and Bible study and hippie praise songs. Corinne’s faith, even as she embraces it, feels suffocating to her and she again doubts.

This struggle with her identity leads to estrangement from her husband, a well-meaning guy who is often blinded to her needs by his own spirituality.

At times touching, with occasional doses of humour, Higher Ground is sure-handed, smart and disarmingly honest. Farmiga’s directing style mirrors her acting: elegant, wise, knowing, and poignant.

The beauty of the film lies in its intimate study of humanity and faith, how the seasons of life can affect our spirituality, and how tragedy often sees us questioning our place on the planet.

Adrian Drayton

First published in Insights magazine

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