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Mirrors, Wounds & Job

My mom, Sister Irene Angela Gemma Rossini, is seen here in 1966 working on one of her large oil paintings. She would later add Cullen to her name, but never dropped the Rossini. 

My mom, Sister Irene Angela Gemma Rossini, is seen here in 1966 working on one of her large oil paintings. She would later add Cullen to her name, but never dropped the Rossini. 

Before embarking on my first narrative feature, A MAN FULL OF DAYS, my work routinely involved one significant and personal fact: I am the son of a Catholic priest (Irish) and a Catholic nun (Italian). They were artists and activists with philosophical and poetic leanings. Having become disenchanted with the conservatism and personal piety that was and is a reaction to Vatican II, my parents left the church at the end of the 1960s, got married and had two children. They were originally introduced because my father was looking for an artist to paint a Resurrection mural for his parish. The project never happened because the church was destroyed to make space for a freeway.

The Catholic vow of celibacy for religious people makes my birth a sin of sorts and has, in my eyes, forever cast doubt on an institution that hypocritically prohibits unions of love, among other prohibitions and related problems. That doubt, and skepticism towards religion more generally, is where A MAN FULL OF DAYS began.

My dad took regular trips by motorcycle when he was a seminarian in Belgium. Here he is at Mont Saint-Michel, in Normandy, France, 1953. 

My dad took regular trips by motorcycle when he was a seminarian in Belgium. Here he is at Mont Saint-Michel, in Normandy, France, 1953. 

The Book of Job is one of seven books in the bible, often called the Wisdom Books, that suggest the possibility of an unsteady faith. If you read the Job text carefully, it's clear that God feels the need to convince Job that s/he is, in fact, great and mighty and super divine. This boasting reveals an insecure God who feels threatened by Job's naive insistence on divine justice. As an absurd take on the question of faith, and to the extent that it lacks conventional religious certainty, the Job story seems somehow outside of or prior to the biblical tradition. And it may be. Some theologians have theorized that Job is a book in the "mirrors for princes" tradition, an ancient pedagogical tool that existed in many cultures for the purposes of educating royalty. Here, the "mirror" is a form of self-conscious educating, undertaken when the prince is about to come to power. The Book of Job, then, could be old school curricula. 

In the backstory to the film, MAN (Brandon Nagle) has been touched by weak angels that visit him and speak to him. Called by both faith and doubt, MAN leaves the security of his job and community and chooses a transient life, one that he hopes will bring him some understanding of himself. When a friend of his (Maia Calloway-Cabrera) attempts to warn him of his misguided adventure, he cuts his hand. This cut is symbolic of the broad Christian effort to solve a classic and beguiling question: If god is benevolent, why is there pain in the world? Through character development, costumes and collaborations with composers and vocalists, I tried to address what the Catholic Church has produced: a deep psychological attachment to wounds, both earned and self-inflicted.

The gangrenous hand of MAN just before he cuts off his fingers. This hand carries dense religious symbolism and the fingers that are removed represent the dissolution of an aberrant Christ, both divine and terrestrial. 

The gangrenous hand of MAN just before he cuts off his fingers. This hand carries dense religious symbolism and the fingers that are removed represent the dissolution of an aberrant Christ, both divine and terrestrial. 

Job's story is an excellent example of this wound fetish. To my mind, it's precisely his agony, not his undying faith, that proves he is worthy of God's grace. In MAN's case, he sees how weak and almost non-existent God is (or the waning existence), and so his wound (he cuts his fingers off) becomes pure performance, a sham of an effort to try to feel real. This logic is confirmed by the HEALER (Sarah Sirota) when she sexualizes the scene by licking MAN's wounded hand. Later MAN dreams about the HEALER where sex and blood co-mingle. 

MAN (Brandon Nagle) in an absurd finale dances a Ukrainian jig to the death inspired by Dovzhenko's Zemlya. 

MAN (Brandon Nagle) in an absurd finale dances a Ukrainian jig to the death inspired by Dovzhenko's Zemlya. 

Job is clearly not the only one who is virtuously wounded in the bible. There's Christ, whose martyrdom laid out an unerring script over the course of millennia for those seeking goodness. Christ's five stigmata led the way and wounds became divine. St. Paul knew it in his Letter to the Galatians, where he wrote, "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus." Perhaps a Christian, or at least a Catholic, must be wounded in order to be good. 

The final scene in A MAN FULL OF DAYS was inspired by the wonderful film, Zemlya, by Dovzhenko. In that film, a peasant dances in the moonlight and is shot by an unknown assailant. In A MAN FULL OF DAYS, the character MAN performs the same Ukrainian dance, but is shot multiple times without dying. Why? There are likely to be a number of interpretations here, but to my mind, MAN is dancing in honor of the absurd notion of being alive without meaning. 

A MAN FULL OF DAYS is part of my series films that focus on the Wisdom Books. I am currently in production for the second part of the series, THE AFTER PARTY, based on Ecclesiastes and the theme, "All is vanity." Here are a few stills from a recent shoot:

Ben Fine and  Cassandra Victoria Chopourian  in THE AFTER PARTY (in production).

Ben Fine and Cassandra Victoria Chopourian in THE AFTER PARTY (in production).

Ben Fine and   Cassandra Victoria Chopourian   in THE AFTER PARTY (in production).

Ben Fine and Cassandra Victoria Chopourian in THE AFTER PARTY (in production).