One of the more provocative arguments of Amos Vogel’s essential study Film as a Subversive Art is that moving images undermine the power of organized religion. By impassively recording natural phenomena, Vogel wrote, the movie camera sees through the mythic associations that religions have brought to them. The camera sees everything the same way: everything that passes before it is equally extraordinary—or equally banal.
I’ve been thinking generally about Film as a Subversive Art since Vogel died last week, but I’ve been thinking specifically about the book’s take on religion since I rewatched Nanni Moretti’s We Have a Pope a few days ago. It’s one of the most effective antireligious films I’ve seen, in large part because Moretti’s approach is so understated. The movie, currently playing at Landmark’s Century Centre, practically opens with a group of cardinals walking past a mob of reporters: Moretti bisects the shot so that the sacred and the profane are on equal terms—neither one more or less ridiculous than the other—a subtle foreshadowing of what’s to follow.