Writer/ Dir:Balazs Juszt | DOP: | Cast Francois Arnaud, Ana Ularu, Jordi Mollà and Mark Ivanir
The Man Who Was Thursday is a metaphysical thriller chronicling Father Smith’s Faustian descent into the Roman underworld. Following a disgraceful turn at his local parish Father Smith is called to Rome for spiritual rehabilitation. Upon his arrival, Charles, the man who introduced him to the faith, reveals the real reason Smith was brought to the Eternal City; to go underground and ascertain the mysterious leader of an anarchist group of renegades, whose leaders are each code-named after the days of the week. Smith accepts this mission and ultimately unearths the true leader of the group, but not before experiencing a litany of mind-bending twists and turns.
This modern take on the early 1900’s novel brings us to a catholic church somewhere in the downtown depths of an American city. Father Smith, a disarmingly young and handsome priest (who wouldn’t look out of place as the boy genius CEO of a popular social media start up company) is struggling to find his purpose with God and his community. It’s all too safe and meaningless, how can he know he is doing God’s work if he’s just going through the motions? When a seductress comes to confession – bating his increasingly weakening resolve – Smith believes he’s come to the end of the line for sure. A sordid turn of event force him to flee America, and he ends up in Rome. Why? Well, it’s never explicitly explained beyond the fact that Smith’s waning faith is in need of shake up. And where better for a man of God to do that than in Rome, under the shadow of the Vatican.
We meet Charles, a strange, dark Italian with an air of authoritative mystery – Smith knows him – but can he trust him? There are darker things at work when Smith is attacked during his stay; he’s ushered to the Vatican under Charles’ watchful eye. The latter explains that Smith is actually there to complete a mission on behalf of the church – one that brings Smith face to face with a woman that looks suspiciously like the seductress that kick started the young priests descent back in America. Only this one is called Saturday and apparently, she’s a key driving force behind a group of religious anarchists all named after days in the week. Though each anarchist is never given enough screen time to communicate a developed back-story – it’s not entirely important here. Smith is revealed as ‘Thursday’ and the group go in pursuit to track Sunday (whose identity is yet to be revealed and is consequentially in hiding) in order to bring about some kind of revolution, free from the hypocrisy and strongholds that religion plagues on the world.
In The Man Who Was Thursday, nothing is force fed to the audience. This is in part a caper with as many twists and turns and dead ends as another recent metaphysical novel adaptations. Like Ron Howard’s adaptations of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series (The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons etc) this film weaves through every scene with a generous and confident direction that allows the audience to journey side-by-side with Smith, never behind. What Smith sees we see, as he experiences it as he is unravels clues and overcomes various obstructions. It’s disconcerting when we as the audience are none the wiser, left to fend like Smith in a frustratingly and increasingly complex turn of events; never truly understanding who, what or why it’s all happening until the end but excited to join the ride.
While Francois Arnaud as Smith is brilliant and likeable as the young priest with a crisis of faith, it’s the striking Ana Ularu as Saturday who steals almost every scene she’s in – in fact she’s so good that you can be forgiven for overlooking the blatant sexism so inherent in stories like these when it comes to a woman’s place in the religious descent of man. Ularu owns the role and I’m not sure I would like it as much if it were played by a man. Jordi Molla also delivers as the mysterious Charles, Smith’s confidant who is seemingly harbouring his own agendas behind the young priest’s mission.
This is a well made film, you see it all on screen from the strong central casts unwavering ability to at least look like they know what they’re talking about even when the audience may not (I found myself pausing and rewinding at times to make sure I hadn’t missed key bits of information and to just listen because I was so distracted by the surface beauty) right down to the props and extras in every shot. Nothing is laid to waste here, everything at least looks like it has been meticulously planned and pulled together – event the sudden time-travelling scenes work rather perfectly here. It never feels contrived but ultimately contributes to the growing questions of purpose and humanity that Father Smith is searching for – maybe he is more than that little church in downtown city in America, or is he suffering from a saviour complex? Either way the questions are thrilling and as the film unfolds it’s fun to see how things pan out for our unlikely hero. The production value and expert delivery as a whole is pretty impressive for a indie. No surprise here when you consider writer/director Juszt’s resume – his knowledge of pulling good story and merging it with a healthy dose of sex, action and intellect will satisfy most viewers, and at the very most get them to seek out the source text.