The Best Thing You Can Do With Your Life


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Best Thing You Can Do With Your Life
"Erffa's willingness to scrutinise her own motivations is what lifts this documentary above the ordinary." | Photo: Courtesy of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

The intensely religious comes up against the passionately personal in this debut feature documentary from Zita Erffa, which sees her turn the camera both on her family and on her own emotions.

In a similar, though more successful and self-scrutinising fashion to 2016's Brother Jakob, Erffa becomes dogged in her desire to know what has led her brother László to sign up with the Roman Catholic order of the Legionairies of Christ. Erffa frames the strict and virtually enclosed Order, which has seen its fair share of scandal dulty noted in the course of this documentary, as an antagonist in her film, but also examines her own motivations and preconceptions, often in tongue-in-cheek fashion.

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After her brother suddenly signed up to the Order at just 17, his family found themselves suddenly bereft, restricted to written communication with him - read, in advance, by his superiors - along with three phone calls a year and a single visit. As Erffa's resentments stewed over eight years, she decided to request to take a camera to capture life in the monastery in Connecticut, and is surprised when the order agrees.

What follows is partly a personal odyssey as Erffa tries to reconnect with her brother and partially an examination of what attracts men - and through home video footage of their childhoods, specifically László - to join this particular order in the first place. There is no doubting that there is something quite 'sect-like' about the way these young men seem to have been essentially guided (some would say groomed) via religious summer camps from a young age to consider joining up, with only four of the 32 novices described as being "from the world" and most of them from aristocratic backgrounds. The older priests also aren't slow to see the opportunity to use this as a potential recruitment film.

Nevertheless, although we are carried to the monastery on a wave of Erffa's cynicism about it, like her, we begin to see that membership of the order gives László and many of the others there a genuine sense of peace and belonging. Throughout the film she makes good use of less-than-holy trinities - flicking between the likes of bed, table, lamp - but in the end she, too, is part of what might be considered a sympathetic triangle featuring her brother, herself and a new understanding of his choices. Her willingness to scrutinise her own motivations is what lifts this documentary above the ordinary, interrogating the form itself in ways that go beyond the central subject matter.

Reviewed on: 27 Jul 2018
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Why did the director’s brother enter a conservative Roman Catholic order, causing him to sever all ties with the outside world?

Director: Zita Erffa

Writer: Zita Erffa

Year: 2018

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Germany, Mexico


Karlovy 2018

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Brother Jakob