Among the many appeals of Greece to tourists and travellers is, perhaps most prominently, the country’s association with the grandiosity of the Gods of Olympus. Foreigners marvel at crumbling columns that once supported glorious temples, where tributes were laid to Zeus for a long and happy life, Athena for intelligence, Aphrodite for love and beauty, and Hades for safe passage to the afterlife. The stories of these ancient deities have left a mark on the imaginations of wonderers and wanderers alike. Yet, it is not their guidance that blessed the lives of so many seeking spirituality and faith in harrowing times. Instead, it was the voice and touch of God through the mortal vessel of Saint Nectarios of Aegina.
Man of God suggests a different understanding of Greece in exploring the trials of Nectarios, played by Aris Servetalis, who imbues his depiction of the saint with a natural charm, tempered by sensitivity to mortal troubles and devotion to faith in God. Nectarios is devout in his religion, with love enough for God to share freely with the community who seek his spiritual guidance.
With a brief prelude in Egypt, where Nectarios served as Metropolitan priest of Pentapolis, no time is wasted in establishing the value Nectarios brings to the Eastern Orthodox Church through his pure intentions to share the love and light of God with a people who is only too grateful for the strength of his leadership. Putting passion into his work, Nectarios thrives, inspiring an ignition of faith in Egypt and growing jealousy amongst the other members of the order. He is slandered by the Church for serving God too greatly and forced to return to Greece despite the despair of the rallied community. Accusations and doubt follow him across the oceans he crosses on his return to Greece, perpetuated by the threatened Patriarch as well as Nectarios’ confusion and grief at the injustice served against him.
The film focuses closely on the trials Nectarios faces in finding a place for himself in the religion, regardless of the brutal shunning and slandering he continues to endure. As an audience, we marvel at the resilience of Nectarios’ kindness of spirit as he begs for the strength to discover forgiveness the audience knows he is owed by the Church. We observe how resounding faith and sense of purpose is enough to survive on and build miracles, gardens, churches and monasteries upon. We hope that regardless of belief, we could all be as patient in the face of life’s trials, and as devoted to our values and causes, as Nectarios could be when left with nothing else.
Biographical in nature, Man of God does not narrow in on a key moment of triumph or glory. It captures the trivialities of life’s experiences, which at times start and end abruptly despite our efforts to create order. Often, storytellers create a definitive beginning, middle and end which link cohesively together in order to create a sense of fullness of story. This film does not need to replicate the same structure to feel wholly complete and leave the audience with a sympathetic satisfaction in the penultimate moments of its focus story.
An English-speaking audience can be grateful for the luxury of watching a Greek film utilise an English-language script. Without the need for subtitles, we can fully immerse ourselves in exquisite cinematography, which strays from the decrepit temples and marbled palaces of a Grecian myths and fantasies. Instead, the film takes a note from the Romantics, reminding viewers of the power and beauty of nature, which Nectarios connects with during his emotional resurrection throughout the film. Blackened rooms of worship transform into cliffside meadows at the mercy of the weather, and God, perhaps. While at times the pacing of dialogue-heavy scenes can seem out-of-sync, the cast has no trouble translating the force of emotion out of their mother tongues, as well as carrying through the subtle notes of humour that spring up occasionally in the film, like flowers in the pavement.
From the frailties of forgiveness to the strength to endure hardship, this film explores themes through the portrait of Saint Nectarios’ life that everyone can benefit from exploring and learning from. Man of God is a solemn and reflective film, but its notes of joy and love remind us that although the road may be rough and the shadows may gather, trust in faith can turn trials into nothing and let glorious sunshine be found again.
Man of God will have a limited cinema release in Australia from the 2nd of June. Find out more here: https://www.movieschangepeople.com/in-cinemas/man-of-god