“The Jewish Cardinal” (“Le Metis de Dieu”), the 2012 French film shown at the New York Film Festival, is a fascinating puzzler.
“To become a Christian I did not reject my Judaism” is the mantra of Jewish-born Aaron Lustiger — intelligently portrayed by Laurent Lucas — who converted at 14, and as Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, almost ascended to the Papacy. The film, by director Ilan Duran Cohen, is a post mortem for a son of an Orthodox father, a survivor of Auschwitz, who never came to terms with his son’s Catholic conversion.
Befriended by Polish-born Pope John Paul II, their ecclesiastical exchanges include a surrealistic vignette when the Pope invites him to open-air swim-a-deux in his private Vatican swimming pool as their aides look on. Nicknamed “the Bulldozer,” Lustiger —moving up in rank and position — challenges sclerotic Vatican obstinacy, seeks outreach and is constantly defending his religious duality, which rankles both the church and the Jewish community. His visit to Auschwitz — where his mother was murdered —coincides with the Carmelite Nuns’ Auschwitz Convent controversy — and galvanizes him to defend the world’s Jewish communities’ outrage.