Representing holy foolishness: an investigation of the holy fool as a critical figure in European cinema
Birzache, Alina Gabriela
In this thesis I investigate the evolving figure of the holy fool as a critical figure in European cinema. Three national cinemas - Soviet and post-Soviet cinema, French cinema, and Danish cinema – form the primary focus of my analysis. These cinemas correspond broadly to the three main orientations in European Christianity: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. The cinematic holy fool of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is interpreted in this thesis as a protean figure through which different European religious and intellectual traditions percolate (chapters one and two). Against this varied cultural background, I investigate the way in which the figure of the holy fool is used by filmmakers as a means of responding to and critiquing aspects of the modern world. To this end I analyse how filmmakers have represented different types, features and uses of the holy fool in interaction with their particular cultural and religious backgrounds. In particular, I examine how the cinematic holy fool is used to critique the religious and social status quo, the contemporary political power structures, and the abuse of reason. An apparently anachronistic figure, I argue that the holy fool has proved a versatile modern device, employed to question established secular and religious worldviews, from the Soviet regimes (chapters three and four) to contemporary Western European democracies (chapters five, six and seven). Through this thesis I identify how the modern holy fool is one without authority; a figure whose critical function has largely outgrown its confessional traditions, even if indebted to them. Nonetheless, in diverse secular and religious settings, I demonstrate how the fool’s critical function remains morally legitimated by selfless suffering.