Jean-Marie Lustiger was born into a Jewish family in France, but World War II came and his family, knowing the dangers all around them, had their son hide with a Catholic family. His mother died in the camps and he, to the disappointment and surprise of his family, joined the Church and became a priest, a bishop and finally a cardinal under John Paul II. This background is just barely recreated for us in “The Jewish Cardinal”, a new DVD, but it is important to the movie, and gives it its dramatic urgency. Based on a true story, the film opens in 1979 with Lustiger as a priest who is about to be promoted to bishop. His energy—visualized by his manic cigarette smoking and use of a moped—has caught the attention of higher-ups, as they realize this convert to the Church can be of great use to French society as it grows increasingly secular. But as he is promoted, the new bishop also has to deal with his elderly father, who continues to live with the grief of losing his wife to the Nazis and his son to the Church. But they do communicate—Lustiger’s cousin helps—while not resolving their differences. The story here, while it might seem foreign or uninteresting, is compellingly told. It reaches a climax when Lustiger learns of the plans, in 1984, of nuns setting up a convent on the grounds of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. The working out of this issue, as Lustiger seeks the aid of John Paul II, meets with Jewish leaders, and continues his work as a cardinal, is deftly and dramatically done; the conflict strikes directly into the heart of this Jewish/Catholic man and so perfectly symbolizes his journey from one world into another and the emotional toll it cost him. As the film draws to a close, we see a life well-lived—a life of hope, compassion and perserverence.
Posted by: David