'Fall' director reflects on teenage experience when priest 'crossed a line' | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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'Fall' director reflects on teenage experience when priest 'crossed a line'

Michael Murphy plays Father Sam in "Fall." THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Mongrel Media - Melissa Connors
December 03, 2014 - 5:20 PM

TORONTO - Canadian director Terrance Odette's new film "Fall" is based on a painful incident from his youth, when he says a Catholic priest "crossed a line" with him.

But rather than portray the priest at the centre of the movie as a flat-out villain, Odette chose to make him more ambiguous. As played by Michael Murphy, Father Sam is a mysterious, almost tragic figure, whose memories seem elusive and whose guilt is never certain.

"I don't think we're going to get anywhere by having a lynching. We're not fixing any of these problems by doing this," Odette said in a recent interview in Toronto.

"There should be a point where we're going, 'This is bad behaviour. It's unacceptable behaviour.' But is the person bad and unacceptable themselves, or do they need help? Or should they just be kept away? There's all kinds of ways of looking at it."

Creating a film that raised more questions than it answered was of utmost importance to Odette, the award-winning filmmaker behind 1999's "Heater" and 2002's "Saint Monica," which also explored Catholicism.

In "Fall," opening Friday, Father Sam receives a letter from a parishioner alleging sexual misconduct 40 years earlier. The letter forces the aging Niagara Falls priest to confront difficult questions about his past and his faith.

Odette was raised a devout Catholic and was 14 years old when a priest invited him to his cottage.

"I was a perfect target," he recalled. "I was fatherless. I had failed a grade and repeated a grade. He took me under his wing, bought me booze and cigarettes, took me to his cottage and then crossed a line."

At the time, Odette remembered, he didn't understand that there was a sexual element to what the priest had done. Then he wondered: "Is it my fault? Did I do it?"

Nothing like it ever happened again, Odette said. The incident affected him deeply but didn't ruin his life — he has been married for 32 years and leads a stable, happy life with his wife and daughter, he pointed out.

Asked if he ever wrote a letter to the priest, who is now dead, Odette replied simply: "No, I wrote it in the screenplay."

However, Odette said the priest in "Fall" is very different from the one in his past. He called Father Sam a "far more mature person," although he was reluctant to say more about the character because he hopes the audience draws their own conclusions.

Murphy, an American actor who has made a career of playing morally ambiguous men, said he didn't want to play "a guy who was just some kind of flat-out weirdo."

"It seemed to me this was a story of a guy's life that was winding down. He was sort of forced to look back on things that he put way back on the back burner," said Murphy.

"You know how you sort of tweak things so they appeal to you — 'What really happened? Oh, that wasn't really that bad.' Forty years later, I don't know."

The 76-year-old actor ("An Unmarried Woman," "Manhattan") said the film also brought up difficult memories for him. He spent his youth in a "very, very conservative" Catholic school in Los Angeles, where nuns physically disciplined him and influenced him to be fearful of women and sex as a young man.

"It's in my DNA. It's who I am, as much as I hate to admit it," said Murphy. "I never thought about it until I started messing with this movie. I thought, 'Boy, this is who I am. This is a profoundly influencing thing.'"

Odette said he hopes the movie contributes to a dialogue about how powerful institutions can sometimes protect abusers. Calling someone a "monster" simplifies the issue, he said.

"We're not looking at the structure that created the monster," he said. "His behaviour is his responsibility, but his behaviour would have been caught a lot sooner if not for the structure."

At screenings of "Fall," abuse survivors have approached him and said, "This is my story," according to Odette.

"So there's a certain sense of responsibility (I feel), to allow myself to expose this in that way, so others feel they can come forward and that there's some comfort," he said. "It happens every day."

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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