Somewhere along the way, European cinema lost its religion. As recently as 1995, the Vatican published a well-informed list of 45 "great films," with a predictable emphasis on religious and spiritual themes, and European contributions were much in evidence. The catalogue was impressive in its breadth: it included an East­ern Orthodox classic like Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (1969), about the legendary icon painter, as well as Pier Paolo Pasolini's rug­gedly Marxist Gospel Accor­ding to St. Matthew (1966). The compilers were by no means looking for syrupy piety. Re­-mark­ably, they mentioned a significant number of then-recent entries of the highest quality, including Gabriel Axel's Babette's Feast and Krzysztof Kieslowski's series The Deca­logue. Not long ago, it seemed, European religious cinema—broadly defined—was thriving.

If the Vatican ever tore itself away from its present troubles long enough to compose a similar list, I wonder if its clerics could find a comparable range of offerings. The question resonates far beyond the world of film trivia. Some 50 or 60 years ago, the great filmmakers treated religious themes seriously and placed those themes firmly on the cultural landscape. These auteurs created brilliant studies of Christian sanctity, and sometimes presented the churches and their clergy in heroic roles (like the in­domitable Resistance priest in Roberto Ros­sellini's 1945 film Open City). While these films might have been critical of orthodoxies or hierarchies, they presented Christianity as something de­manding respect and inquiry. Faith mattered. But what would a culturally literate person take from European films made in the past decade or so?

One major problem is the lack of films that address mainstream or institutional religion as opposed to general "spirituality." Looking only at films with a particular ecclesiastical setting, one finds a simple and almost uniform message: the church is a model of organized hypocrisy, dedicated to the repression of individual freedom, above all in sexual matters.