Thursday 25 November 2021

Streaming on Netflix - Peter Hourigan looks at healing from paedophile priests - PROCESSION (Robert Greene, USA, 2021)

Oh, no.  Not another film about paedophile priests? Isn’t it becoming almost a genre in itself? Though we know there are so many histories to provide material?  Well, Procession doesn’t follow the usual route, and it becomes something different and far richer.

The story goes that Robert Greene started on the film when he saw a segment on television where three survivors of priest abuse declared they were ready to publicly name 230 priests in the Kansas City area who had participated in an organised child sex-trafficking ring. An excerpt from this program starts the film.  Greene developed connections that led to the involvement of three more men who’d been abused – and a qualified drama therapist. 

And instead of a sensational exposé we join the six men, the therapist and a film crew as they set out to make small films about their own individual experiences of the abuse. Locations must be scouted – which can lead to a hunt to identify the actual places of abuse.  Or casting must be arranged.  Who can play you as an innocent eleven-year-old?  It’s not just a matter of finding a sweet innocent looking boy but being actively concerned about the boy’s own welfare in being exposed, albeit second-hand, to the horrors of abuse. 

The six men who were victims of paedophile priests.

An interesting situation arises when a couple of the men play abusers in the re-enactment of some of the other men. And what convincing (and jolly) priests they are!

One of the outcomes of the approach is that we have a stronger sense of the damage done by abuse than often emerges from other such films.  These men are not now drug-addicts or dead beats.  Or dead from suicide in trying to escape their nightmares. Though these have been the outcomes for many victims. Rather they have had successful working lives, and generally successful private lives.  But they have achieved this over ongoing nightmares, insecurity, inability to trust and perpetual anger.  With one of the men, you feel that never was profanity filled language so justifiable. 

This boy played one of men at the age he was abused.

The opening titles give the names of the six men in the card, “A film by…” rather than director Robert Greene.  This is a beautiful and fitting acknowledgement of the contributions of these in shaping the film – and in fact giving permission for the film in the first place. But it is still clearly a film by Robert Greene who has explored this structure of using the process of reconstructing an event to impart information about that event and explore its meaning. 

In Bisbee ’17 (2018) he explored the labour busting tactics in Bisbee Arizona in 1917, when mine owners illegally transported at gunpoint over 1000 miners who had been trying to gain better, and safer working conditions. He did this through the local residents of Bisbee in 2017 working to stage a re-enactment of the forced deportations.  We learn about the event itself, of course.  But also, we get an insight into the meaning of the event 100 years later. Those who’d never heard of it. People finding themselves challenged as they find out about the actions of an ancestor. What impact do 100-year-old events have on the political values of some of those people today, perhaps through family traditions passed down, but never questioned. 

In Greene’s Kate Plays Christine (2016) we’re with an actress preparing to play the role of a television news reader who killed herself on TV in 1974.

So, re-enactments have been an important tool in Greene’s directorial kitbag.  But there is a stronger, richer element here, where these preparations and performances become an important cathartic, healing element for the men. Ultimately this is not a sordid story, but a beautiful, and joyful work, where you can feel exultant as these damaged men experience beautiful healing and invite us to share it.

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