Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Devotions (2021) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Standing on a beach in a voluminous fuchsia dress, bedecked in plastic jewels, Barry Fitzgerald is vividly queer and yet conjures, also, something of the appearance of a religious officiary, all this glamour expressing joy found in the divine. Later, as he dances, his naked torso captures the colour of the sand at his feet; the silver sequins of his spangles flash like the night tide. The world is upside down now, or else some element of order, small enough to be held in a human mind, has emerged from the vastness of all that untamed creation.
Barry, who wrote and performs, tells us that he feels no distance between himself and God. It is as if God were the between. There is no conflict, for him, between his devotion and his queerness, though there is plenty within the religion in which he was raised. The tale he imparts as he dances or as we watch the waves or see him running through the dunes is not just his own but that of Bernárd J Lynch, a priest, also from rural Ireland, who served in new York during the early years of the AIDS epidemic. It touches on the overwhelming horrors of that experience, the scale of loss and the intimate grief at each passing.
Described by the Catholic Church as “expressions of love and fidelity that arise from the intersection of one's own faith, culture and the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” devotions vary widely in their form, and Fitzgerald finds numerous ways in which Catholicism and queer culture employ similar tropes to similar ends. The film explores understandings of shame, the impact of love and cruelty, and the experience of community. In tackling the rejection that many queer Catholics have endured, and the culture of apologism which has superseded it, he finds something similar to the experience of self-abnegation and trial as expressed in the Church’s wider philosophy. The implication is not only that there are innate similarities between queerness and Catholicism, but that the former can enhance engagement with the latter.
A very personal film which balances its dance-focused sequences well with its narration, The Devotions, which screened at the 2021 Scottish Queer International Film Festival, may help outsiders to understand why queerness and religion do not have to be at odds. It speaks clearly to the experiences of a wounded generation, helping to create a clear space in which those born later might embrace their whole selves.Reviewed on: 09 Oct 2021