CULVER CITY, Calif. (Reuters) - Tucked into a suburban Los Angeles office between her convent and a chapel, film critic Sister Rose Pacatte sits at her computer and plays a clip from edgy dark comedy “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
The numerous expletives in the award-winning movie don’t faze the 66-year-old Daughter of St. Paul. Sitting at a desk surrounded by inspirational posters, a treadmill and a bobblehead of Pope Francis, she rates “Three Billboards” as her favourite movie of 2017.
“If you look at the pain people have, you have to expect some release,” she says of the story of an angry mother seeking justice for her daughter’s unsolved murder. “It was full of moments of exquisite grace and humanity - and it’s extremely funny!”
In an era when film critics’ influence has given way to social media buzz and fan approval, the diminutive Sister Rose has stood for the past 15 years as an intermediary between the big screen and America’s Catholic faithful.
“She’s like our vanguard for all things film,” said Chris Heffron, co-executive editor of the St. Anthony Messenger, a monthly magazine with some 400,000 monthly online visitors that runs a column from Sister Rose.
Film has always played a leading role in the life of Sister Rose, who as a teenager decided to become a nun partly because of the St. Bernadette biopic “The Song of Bernadette” and Catholic school comedy “The Trouble with Angels.”
This love for cinema goes hand-in-hand with the religious order, Daughters of St. Paul, whose current members have adopted the hashtag “#MediaNuns” in their mission to connect people to the Church through media.
Sister Rose, who serves as director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City, California, and also writes for the biweekly National Catholic Reporter newspaper, views herself as a “mediator of the film” for Catholicism.
Her reviews are not restricted to religious or family-themed films, casting a wide net from “Sex and the City 2” to superhero blockbusters and independent fare.
In 2016, she hosted the television series “Condemned,” a 27-film programme on Turner Classic Movies examining movies denounced by the Catholic Legion of Decency.
“I use human dignity, the common good, human solidarity, family, community ... even challenging the dominant culture of consumerism,” she says about her views on film.
She called 2010 greed thriller “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” “the black ice that our prosperity as a nation travels on.”
Oscar-winner “Spotlight” in 2015 about the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal was a “finely underplayed and ultimately heartbreaking crime mystery.”
In her years as a critic, Sister Rose has become a trusted voice in interfaith communities on matters of mass culture. She has served on juries at the Berlin and Venice film festivals, among others.
“Rose has this uncanny ability to have her finger on the pulse of what people should see but also what media consumers should look out for,” Heffron said. “She is a great shepherd through all the garbage out there.”
But behind her constant sunny disposition is a fascination with darker elements of human nature dramatized on the big screen.
“A good movie will make us question the status quo,” she says. “It will make us questions our behaviour. It will ask us how we can help relieve the suffering that we may see ... humanity is such a brilliant subject.”
Reporting by Eric Kelsey, editing by Jill Serjeant and David Gregorio