The Pope's critical guide to the world's top movies

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The Independent Online
Suddenly, everybody's a film critic - even the Pope. The Roman Catholic Church might not seem the obvious body to consult - the Vatican is, after all, more famous for banning films than for recommending them - but it has drawn up a list of 45 movies which it believes stand the test of time without offending Catholic sensibilities.

There are some big surprises on the list. For a start, nun's habits are in surprisingly short supply (The Sound of Music does not feature), and there are some inclusions that may raise a few clerical eyebrows.

Fellini, Pasolini and Bunuel have all had their fair share of problems with the Catholic Church, but now it seems all, or nearly all, is forgiven. Despite their deviant politics, religious views and sexual behaviour, films by all three directors figure in the list, chosen by the Vatican to mark the centenary of the cinema.

Intriguingly, its list of religious classics includes Nazarin, a searing attack on hypocrisy within the Church by Bunuel, one of the 20th century's more noted atheists; and The Gospel According to St Matthew, which is reverent enough but bears the distinctive stamp of its Marxist homosexual director, Pasolini. Fellini, whose depiction of a permissive and godless post-war Rome, La Dolce Vita, was once on the Vatican's infamous blacklist, merits two entries, for La Strada and for 81/2.

A strong anti-puritan streak suggests itself with the inclusion of Dreyer's mystical masterpiece Ordet and the hedonistic Babette's Feast. And the list is not confined to art-house classics: under moral values, the Vatican has listed It's a Wonderful Life along with Schindler's List, Gandhi, and Chariots of Fire.

But overall, the list remains as cautious as one would expect, with a noticeable bias against violence, sex and bad language. Roman Catholic directors notable for their absence include Alfred Hitchcock (too perverse?) and Robert Bresson (too morally ambiguous?).

One can carp at the odd lapse in taste - Mickey Rourke in Liliana Cavani's biopic of St Francis of Assisi, for example, or the entertaining but hardly world-class Lavender Hill Mob (the only comedy).

Overall, though, the Vatican seems bent on showing off its most liberal colours. By now, the notorious blacklist, abolished in the mid-1960s, is but a distant memory. Who knows, for the cinema's bicentenary the Church could be recommending Last Tango in Paris and The Last Temptation of Christ.