Forgive me for yelling in the title :-) ... but I just finished watching a terrific older movie that I suspect many of you here would
The movie is "Lower Depths" by Akiro Kurosawa ... on DVD, rented from Netflix.com (I say that not to promote Netflix, but simply to say this is not a movie easily found in one's neighborhood video store) ... black and white, dating from the mid-1950s ... a very strange "comedy" based on a Maxim Gorky play of the same name. Kurosawa's adaptation (according to the commentary) stays very close to Gorky's original, except for some obvious necessary changes. For example, Gorky's was set in St Petersburg, Russia, while Kurosawa's is set in Edo, Japan; one of Gorky's characters is a homeless priest, presumably Russian Orthodox, who in Kurosawa is changed to a homeless Buddhist priest.
It's a hard "comedy" to laugh at ... partly because, being some 50 years old and subtitled, styles and conventions have changed ... but perhaps even more
because it's just not about a funny subject. The whole thing is set in a garbage dump in a ravine at the edge of Edo, and deals with the lives of the people who live down there ... and the stories they tell others (and themselves) about themselves, the hopes and delusions they hold that allow them to survive (emotionally and spiritually, and even physically) in this situation ... and about an elderly homeless Buddhist priest who wanders into the place maybe 30 minutes into the 2-hour movie and who seems to be the only one who accepts their stories and tall tales at face value. He accepts them, not because he necessarily believes them (I don't think he does) but because he knows that's what compassion means in this situation: go gentle with the desperate untrue truths people to which people feel they have to cling.
Funny? No, not really, although it certainly is "light" in many places. In fact, the commentator said -- and for what it's worth I agreed -- that is Kurosawa's genius in this one: in making a bona fide comedy not only about a very heavy topic, but also in simultaneously allowing the comedic layer and grim layer to coexist without a distracting clash. (Apparently this was true of Gorky's play too. It's for sure I'm off to the library to find out!) It is VERY thought-provoking, VERY moving (there's that shouting again :-)), and it has an astonishing ending -- the commentator calls it "shocking," and I don't think that's at all the right word; but the last 5 minutes or so -- the lightest of the light scenes in the movie, and one that had me absolutely mesmerized with its surreal comedic beauty -- turns out to be an amazingly deft setup for the very last words of the movie, which are very very poignant indeed.
The commentator also said that while this is undoubtedly one of Kurosawa's best films -- and this in the list of such as "Roshomon," "Ran," "Ikiru," "7 Samurai" and so many other modern already-classics --it is also ironically one of his most under-appreciated. It is a piece of work, in the very best senses of the word, and well worth one's meditative attention.
Oh, and for purposes of Buddhist-Christian dialogue: while I haven't yet read Gorky's play for comparison, my hunch is that the key to the ease of such dialogue lies in the fact a (presumably) Russian-Orthodox priest can so seamlessly be replaced by a Buddhist priest and yet, presumably, have his lines unchanged :-)