When most people think of movies for December/Christmas, they think Frank Capra, Christmas Vacation or Home Alone. Which are all great. But the season of Advent is not just about twinkling lights, feel-good family reunions, and Macaulay Culkin-burns-Joe-Pesci’s-head gags. It’s also about feeling the tension of waiting… for redemption, for justice, for the renewal of all things. It’s about waiting with anticipation for better days, knowing they are coming because God became man and paved a way.
The following are some films that I think capture some of that spirit. They are not Christian films or Christmas films. They are just films I’ve been thinking of as I’ve been meditating on Advent this year.
Before Sunrise: Richard Linklater’s film about two people who glimpse, over the course of a night in Vienna, what true connection feels like. The film ends with an open-ended hope that they will reunite at some point, but we’re left uncertain about that (unless we’ve seen the sequel, Before Sunset).
The Pianist: Adrien Brody shines in this Roman Polanski-directed Holocaust drama–a stark and difficult film that rewards viewers with a stunning, beautiful musical catharsis at its conclusion that points toward a transcendent hope.
Gosford Park: Something about the music in Robert Altman’s Gosford Park–Chopin-esque piano refrains, Ivor Novello matinee idol folk tunes–gracefully underscores the film’s underlying longing, waiting for justice to be served.
Days of Heaven: If we’re talking about films that embody the tension between tragedy and beauty, darkness and light, present and future hope, Malick’s Days of Heaven has to be on the list.
Bicycle Thieves: Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece of Italian neo-realism is a simple tale of a man, his son, and their search for a lost bicycle, but it’s also a profoundly moving look at the desperate experience of injustice and the unceasing search for a better life.
Munyurangabo: This stunning 2008 film about reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda is a perfect film for Advent. It’s full of moments of beauty and unresolved tension, hope mingled with sadness.
The Son: Arguably the Dardenne Brothers’ most affecting film, The Son is a powerful, raw meditation on forgiveness and fatherly love. It’s a film about moving away from the divided and toward the reconciled.
Night On Earth: The dreary but intimate ambiance in Jim Jarmusch’s Night On Earth, a film comprised of five vignettes that take place in 5 taxis on one night on earth, lends the film a “weary world waiting to rejoice” feeling of universality. It’s a snapshot of humanity, quirky and flailing in the same general direction of longing.
Chop Shop: Ramin Bahrani’s Neorealist gem takes a look at an orphaned brother and sister living in poverty in modern day New York. Stark and raw as it is, the film is by no means bleak. Rather, it’s a moving examination of how relationships can anchor us and push us forward, even in the most difficult of experiences.
Lost in Translation: Set amidst the buzzing electronics of Tokyo at night, Sofia Coppola’s masterpiece is an assemblage of quiet, intimate moments of tired souls grasping for connection. It’s a film that captures the beauty of shared moments and the desperate longing for those moments to last just a little bit longer.