Podcast: Filmmaker John Michael McDonagh on Calvary


John Michael McDonagh

Calvary” is written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. This is his second film in a trilogy that he is making. “The Guard” was the first, and “Calvary” is the second and his third film is ” The Lame Shall Enter First.” Brendan Gleeson, the Irish actor is the star of this trilogy.

Calvary” is about a good Catholic priest Father James Levelle (Brenden Gleeson) who is given 7 days notice before he is going to be killed by one of his congregation members. He find out about hisdeath threat when one of his confessor says he wants to kill a good priest as a revenge for the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. The confessor informs the good father that he has a week to put his house in order before he kills him. We don’t know who this confessor, and only hear his voice.

Over the course of  the next 7 days we are introduced to a handful of oddball characters from Father James’ congregation. But, who is the one that threatened Father James? How does Father James put his house in order? And how come he is not perturbed by the imminent threat to his life? These are some of the questions that went through my mind as I sat there watching this intensely, absorbing narrative with dark undertones. Like the Irish coast it had its moments. Sometimes there was laughter and at other times it was uncomfortable to sit and watch the film unfold

McDonagh it appears is fascinated with the notion of “opposites” and his characters are a mix of opposites. Take the Catholic priest, who is surrounded by bad people.But then there is a twist. This good Catholic priest was previously married and has a  grown-up daughter. He has also had problems with the bottle and appears to have to overcome his addiction. After the loss of his wife he decides to embrace the life of a priest. McDonagh is also fascinated with the notion of an “outsider.” The priest is an outsider to this small Irish town. And yet as an outsider he tries to work with his congregation and bring them a little joy and happiness into their troubled lives.

“Calvary” is set in Ireland, McDonagh pays homage to Ireland and the county that his parents came from. He himself was born and brought up in London. The Irish coast is almost like a character in the film. It is sunny, green and inviting in one scene, and cold, grey and uninviting in another scene. The Irish coast is almost like a character and McDonagh admits in the interview we did with him in San Francisco. He wanted to create a character similar to Monument Valley of John Ford’s films.

In this interview McDonagh talks about the title of the film and how he came to select “Calvary,” and what it means. He also talks about the various references in the film. There are references to Alfred Hitchock, John Ford, Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. (Hint: The Sergio Leone influence is the black cossack that Gleeson wears and the stark, white-washed room that Gleeson calls home.) The film is studded with literary and musical references and we talk to him about that.

Calvary” releases in San Francisco bay area on August 8, 2014.

[LISTEN John Michale McDonagh writer/director of “Calvary”]