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Father's Flicks
Proof & The 2005 Scottsdale
International Film Festival


I can’t tell a mathematical proof from a hole in my head, but I know movies and “Proof” (Miramax) is a very good movie.  Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the film gets the more serious, award-baiting autumn movie season off to a great start. In “Proof,” Gwyneth Paltrow (“Shakespeare in Love”) plays Catherine, a young woman grieving the recent death of her renowned mathematics professor father (played in flashbacks by Anthony Hopkins).  Catherine lived with her father and served as his caretaker during his final years.  We gradually learn that he suffered a mental break after his early years of academic success, and that despite some later improvement he needed Catherine’s constant attention.  As a result, Catherine has had to put her own mathematical talent and desires on hold.  Increasingly isolated and cynical, many in the university community where her father taught and lived have feared for Catherine’s own sanity.  But those concerns really come to a head when Catherine’s estranged sister (played by Hope Davis) returns for their father’s funeral and herself doubts Catherine’s grip on reality.  Catherine briefly finds support against her sister from their father’s graduate assistant (played by Jake Gyllenhaal).  But he too questions Catherine’s sanity when she presents him with a brilliant, potentially historic mathematical proof she claims to have written herself. “Proof” is essentially a three-character story, and its theatrical roots are evident in its structure and smart dialogue.  Director John Madden does a fine job though of moving the plot beyond the confines of the father’s house and into Chicago-area campuses, churches and shopping malls. 

   Despite seeing her give several good performances in various movies, I’ve never been a big fan of Gwyneth Paltrow.  Watching “Proof,” however, she blew me away with her emotionally textured, often raw and unpredictable performance.  It is very easy to believe her here as a potentially brilliant but potentially mad woman, and the film raises interesting questions about whether genius as well as insanity can be inherited from one’s parent(s).  Hopkins, Davis and Gyllenhaal all give fine performances and have almost as much screen time as Paltrow, but the movie belongs to her.  At times, Paltrow’s emotional intensity reminded me of the intensity Elizabeth Taylor brought to the film versions of such plays as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “Suddenly Last Summer.”

     Intellectually and emotionally satisfying, you won’t need much “Proof” to realize this could be one of the year’s best movies.


This year’s festival will run October 7th-11th at the Harkins Camelview 5 theatre.

  One film of definite Catholic interest being shown at the festival this year is the German film “The Ninth Day.”  Director Volker Schlondorff has tackled the rise of fascism and its after-effects in his prior films “The Tin Drum” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”  Here, he takes a more intimate and morally-complex approach.

  A Catholic priest (played by Ulrich Matthes) interred in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau is released by his captors for nine days and given the task of convincing the bishop of Luxembourg to support Hitler.  With the clock ticking, the priest must grapple with the Nazi high command, his family, his bishop and God in his struggle to do the right thing.

Based on a true story, “The Ninth Day” is the work of a mature filmmaker, and perhaps the best of Schlondorff’s career.  It will be shown twice during the festival, on October 8th and 9th, and I am privileged to be able to introduce each showing and facilitate audience discussion afterward.  For complete festival details and ticket information, please visit  or click the picture above.