Who’s That Knocking At My Door?

Scorsese had been working on Who’s That Knocking At My Door? since he was in film school at NYU, and as per his “assistant,” the film had changed titles (aka I Call First) and expanded storylines at least three times. Harvey Keitel was cast in the lead from a response to an ad for actors, and though at times his dialogue feels a little unrefined, a little unsure, it also feels like the Keitel we know today. Thereby (unintentionally) providing an added sinister undercurrent that a viewer may not have otherwise picked up on in 1968.

The story is fairly straight forward as most American independent movies of this period tended to be. Keitel plays a young Italian American named J.R. The film wavers between J.R.’s interactions with his male friends and his female friends, one female in particular which he meets while waiting for a ferry he “never usually takes.” In addition to his close (nearly interpretable as homoerotic) interaction with his male friends and on top of his disgusted reaction when Zina confides in him about her “impurity,” he is your average sexually repressed 70s male. Scorsese keeps very close to his Catholic roots in this film, not only with the overt actions of J.R., but the whole ending sequence which is basically a montage of Catholic iconography set to a rather obvious soundtrack for the movie’s overall style. Well worth a watch if you’ve sat through all the student films by Scorsese first.

Jesus, You Know

I don’t claim to know Jesus, but I do know the work of Austrian director Ulrich Seidl and for a filmmaker whose previous work I’ve seen a limited amount of (thanks to the fact that not more international films are distributed in the States), I sort of expected this documentary (if one can really call it that) to attempt to shed light on what it saw to be the inconsistencies, ambiguities or contradictions in religion. I was wrong. The movie instead seems to want to peel our eyelids back and force us to bear the private confessions of a select group of devout Catholic Austrians. On the whole, there is really nothing more to this film than the invasiveness it attempts to portray as cinematic, when in reality the “story” is more akin to a play (or anti-play) by Ionesco or even Beckett, with it’s dramatic structure accentuating the simple-minded, puppetry of its characters.

The film concentrates on the seemingly paltry confessions of local residents in all their unglorified normalcy; some of them interesting, some of them not. Of the interesting ones there is the housewife who dusts the many large crucifixes and wipes down the bloody chests of the crucified martyr suspended from them. Her confessions are of how she longs for her Muslim husband to accept her Catholicism. He does not and they fight about it often, furthermore the scenes involving both of them depict just how wide the gap is between their faiths, something which seems to be preventative of them embracing their relationship and continuing to share any love which they used to have for each other.

In another woman’s confession, we are shown the desperation at the thought of being alone at an old age. A little old woman quietly sits in the front pew of the church by herself confessing her thoughts at poisoning her husband who she believes is having an affair. She admits she simply doesn’t want to be alone. When she does confront him at a much later date, he leaves her anyway, and we watch as she takes sleeping pills to help herself cope with the fact of being alone at night.

And while these two individuals stick out for me, there are also other interesting storylines which crop up during our time as a voyeur in the various Catholic churches of Austria. It’s interesting to see the way Seidl cuts the dialogue of the “documentary” confessions almost as if the individuals are having their conversations with God. And one might argue from a religious point of view, that they are having conversations with God, and it’s validated in the way Seidl will always cut to a crucifix, or an adorned altar, or even the church itself just as the confessors conclude, as if to show the “reaction shot” or response of their listening Lord.

Seidl does a good job of showing us all sides of the devout. Some of the patrons only seem to call on God when they need him, some asking him for selfish things to boost their lapsing vanity—actually most all of them ask for selfish things, now that I think about it—with the exception of the one little lady who cleans the church floors and dusts the crucifixes; she prefaces the entire film by praying for all those who view Jesus, You Know. Now, that is truly someone who knows Jesus.