The Keepers–Another Spotlight

The Keepers review

Sister Cathy Cesnik

In this seven-episode true-crime documentary from Netflix (released May 19 of this year), The Keepers explores the 1969 death of 26-year old Catholic nun and Baltimore schoolteacher Sister Cathy Cesnik and touches on 20-year-old Joyce Malecki’s murder four days later. Both slayings remain unsolved. The cover up that follows has echoes of Spotlight (see my review of January 16, 2016).

Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, two retired 60-something grandmothers and former students of Sister Cathy’s at Archbishop Keough High School, still feel disturbed by the almost-half-a-century-old cold case. Who savagely beat and then murdered beloved teacher Sister Cathy? Starting a Facebook group in 2014 to reach out to others to share information about Sister Cathy’s murder, these two badass senior citizens–as intrepid and analytical as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple–uncover a cold case like no other that the Baltimore police or Catholic Church has had to contend with.   Abbie and Gemma create a safe space for people who had been afraid to speak up.  And the role of social media is astounding as a tool for criminal investigation. These two amateur sleuths use the internet brilliantly!

The Keepers, which some viewers may compare to Making a Murderer, spotlights a ring of child sex abuse so savage that the collateral damage– including addiction and suicide– may have affected over one-hundred students at the all-girl Catholic high school. We witness an incredibly raw, harrowing, eye-opening journey that implicates those we are raised to trust most: family, church, and state.

A lot of people were threatened by Sister Cathy, if she were to talk.The Keepers suggests a strong link between the police’s deliberate mishandling of the case and the archdiocese’s intentional cover-up in this devout Catholic community.

Attention is first drawn in 1994 by Jean Hargadon Wehner–who is the first to come forth and reveal the possible perpetrators in Cathy’s murder. She also files a $40 million lawsuit alleging sexual abuse at the hands of the high school chaplain, Father Maskell. She reports that he showed her Sister Cathy’s body in the woods when she was his student– as a warning against speaking out.  “Do you see what happens when you say bad things about people?” She kept her secret for almost thirty years. “I put what happened to me in a box, so I could survive,” Jean explains.

Netflix has masterfully produced an intense whodunit on several levels: 1) We see the community blinded by what is happening, and at times, believing the authorities over their own children; 2) We see how cruel, violent behavior in the name of religion can manipulate the innocent and inexperienced into submission; 3) We see how the lack of sexual education and candor led to rampant manipulation of children; 4) And we see how post-traumatic stress shuts down memory as a self-protective mechanism in order to deal with unhealed wounds.

This powerful exposé spotlights corruption by the Catholic church, the police department, and the court system. At the end we see an outraged Jean Hargadon Wehner scream out, in a raw hoarse cry, — “Those mother fuckers!”

 

Note: As of May 23, the Baltimore City Police Department has created a Facebook page to help solve the murders. Leads and possible witnesses in the investigations continue after the last day of filming. Additional social media sites have become involved (subreddits in particular).

Cezanne et Moi–Artistic Jealousy

Cezanne et Moi

Guest blogger: Barbara Donsky, the award-winning author of the memoir Veronica’s Grave,  is posting for the second time–“Cezanne et Moi”– for my website. [Her first guest feature was “The Innocents” –And War” on July 16, 2016. For the unedited version of this review go to Barbara Donsky’s blog, www.desperatelyseekingParis.com, –“Cezanne and Zola”]

Cézanne et Moi portrays the troubled friendship between the Post-Impressionist master Paul Cézanne (played by Guillaume Gallienne) and the Nobel Prize-nominated novelist Émile Zola (Guillaume Canet).

Young Zola is so poor he catches birds so he and his mother can eat. Cézanne, on the other hand, comes from a privileged background but is bullied by an austere and imposing father.

The biopic Cezanne et Moi traces their tumultuaous friendship from early school days to nights of debauchery and eventually to a reversal in social standing.  Cézanne, disheartened by the success of the Impressionist painters, forges ahead trying to find a way forward from Impressionism to what we now know as modern art. His early efforts meet with disdain in a world still captivated by the works of the Impressionists. Cezanne et Moi

Although Zola comes to his friend’s defense, Cézanne’s pride remains wounded. The arguments and jealousies increase, in part because Zola, after the publication of a few novels, has become a wealthy man.   Eventually they have a falling out over Zola’s “L’Oeuvre,” a fictionalized depiction of Cézanne’s life as a loser and failed artist.   When Zola’s novel met with great acclaim, Cézanne accused Zola of ‘selling out’, of siding with the bourgeoisie.

Adding more misery to their relationship is Alexandrine, Cézanne’s previous lover, who marries Zola.  Years later, Cézanne, against his family’s wishes, would live for many years with another woman made famous by his paintings of ‘Madame Cezanne’. if a woman his family regarded as beneath them socially.

That these two geniuses, temperamentally 180 degrees apart, should have met and befriended one another seems improbable, and yet it happened. And the world is richer for it—if not the women who loved them and lived with them. Cezanne et Moi is a family saga with twists and turns any viewer and writer would love.

American Gods–A Subversive Riff on Religion

American Gods TV series (STARZ)

The dual theme of religion and government is an intriguing new exploration for television. Handmaid’s Tale (see my May 14th review) focuses on women’s debasement in the name of religion  American Gods, on the other hand, focuses on immigrants (pre-travel ban), and the brewing and stewing of mythology in opposition to institutional religions. Both myth and established religions fight a new belief system of technology and money.  This is experimental film-making and cinematography at its best.

Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is a convict who is released a few days early from prison, due to the death of his wife. Without income, he begrudgingly becomes a bodyguard and partner to the mysterious Mr. Wednesday (the magnetic Ian McShane).  American Gods is first and foremost the story of Mr. Wednesday.

Based on the 2001 novel by the same name by children’s book author Neil Gaiman (of Coraline fame), American Gods is part stylized art, part time-travel, part political commentary and part science fiction/fantasy. With its intensity, stellar acting, stunning visuals, and diverse cast, this is a complex fantasy series. The plots involving con men and forgotten but vengeful deities combat each other in horrific scenes of violence. The series begins with a Vikings episode of blood and gore commanded by the Norse gods.

American Gods is not for the faint-of-heart. But for those who are unafraid of the darkness of the soul, or of the repressive effects of religion —American Gods tackles difficult subject matter:     the human need for the spiritual., Not every viewer can watch this series without being offended. For those who can, they will experience a provocative tour of the divisions in spiritual versus material values. The divisions, coupled with the depredation of violence in the name of religion and egomania, are dazzling and impossible to forget. The series’ first season (on Starz) has not ended and the questions of division and unification remain to be answered.