Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Broken’ and ‘Voyeur’


“BROKEN” (BRITBOX)

I’d like to say I’m surprised the BBC series, “Broken,” hasn’t gotten more attention, but I suppose I’m not. I think the reason it hasn’t has a lot to do with what makes it such a superior drama and one that I recommend over most others this past year.

“Broken” focuses on the life of a Catholic priest, but refuses to step into the extreme views that such a scenario offers, neither tearing down the institution nor being overtly apologist. It presents that priest’s interactions with his parish with compassion and a strong sense of an old-fashioned kind of social justice, particularly poverty, but never with the priest as a superhero who solves all problems through the miracle of faith. And it examines the priest’s psyche and his relationship with the church without making a villain of the system he works in.

The series stars Sean Bean, who many will remember from his pivotal role in the first season of “Game Of Thrones.” Here he plays Father Michael, tortured by the pain of his childhood, with overwhelming memories in which his mother and the priest of his childhood figure in as monsters. Not that Michael lets himself off the hook, reexamining his behavior and his initial motivation for turning to the priesthood.

In between his personal struggles, Michael struggles to help people in his community, some in trouble of their own causing, some victims of other people causing discord, but all treated with compassion and dignity. But Michael is far from perfect, and his efforts vary in success. Some are abject failures, and the series works to establish the importance of his role as an advocate and support system to a community on the margins. In some ways, it’s like an extended Ken Loach film.

As Michael, Bean shines, giving the character a stumbling affability that is sometimes reassuring, sometimes awkward. It’s an immensely sincere performance, and Michael is wholly realized, imperfect, passionate, and, yeah, broken in a way we can all identify with him.

“VOYEUR” (NETFLIX)

It was more than 30 years ago that famed journalist Gay Talese came into contact with Gerald Foos, a hotel owner who claimed to have a secret passage he could use to spy on his guests. Though the focus of his efforts was to witness sex, Foos had taken to meticulously logging the details of each guest and whatever circumstance about them he found interesting or important, and began to think of his den of perversion as a sociology laboratory. He contacted Talese because he wanted to be famous.

Foos and Talese kept in touch for years and in 2013, agreed that Talese would write a book about Foos. The documentary “Voyeur,” directed superbly by Myles Kane and Josh Koury, follows the process of publishing that book and lingers on the aftermath. Alongside the lurid and absurd central story, the film questions of the nature of truth, of bias in journalism, of the way men justify their dysfunction, of the way egos stand in obstruction to responsibility, and so many more.

It’s a multi-layered study of both men — one possibly a sociopath, one certainly a narcissist — and uses their desperate need for attention to reveal the obsessive self-reverence that defines their dual parasitic relationship. But it’s also a chance for both men to strut in front of the camera. They think they have a venue for what they think is great about themselves and that gets their mouths going. This provides Foos with the opportunity to present his crimes as tall tales and the filmmakers to delve further into his unassuming yet unhinged life of isolation. And it provides enough rope for Talese, which he is more than happy to use for onscreen hanging.”Voyeur” takes the idea of voyeurism and stretches it.

It’s about voyeurism in the classic, nasty sense with its focus on a Peeping Tom hotel owner. But it’s also about the writer who spends years peeping in on the voyeur’s mind and the slew of people that enable the writer with their own manifestations of voyeurism — the book and magazine editors and the audience for those, and, honestly, the filmmakers and audience for this very documentary. We are all fascinated by the turbulent, smut-ridden spectacle as much as the larger truths it brings out. It’s voyeurs all the way down.


Originally published at www.berkshireeagle.com.

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