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Australia 2013
Directed by
Lynn-Maree Milburn
102 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4 stars

In Bob We Trust

Synopsis: Father Bob Maguire, Melbourne icon. If you haven’t heard of him, this is as good a place to start as any.  

Some documentaries are nearly impossible to screw up. Get the right subject, follow them around with a camera, and you’ll have an incredibly engaging film. There’s a lot of craft that goes into creating a truly engaging documentary but sometimes such people make it easy for you. This is one of those cases, especially since throughout the entire film the director has insisted on using twitchy micro edits when people talk to camera that give the impression everything said has been rearranged and is thus completely unreliable. I assume the intent was to suggest that the speed at which Father Bob’s mouth operates is completely out of sync with the rest of his body, but it doesn’t work and it runs through the whole film, spoiling an otherwise excellent experience. The rapid-fire editing does work well, however, in the introductory moments of the film, where Bob narrates the history of the Catholic Church from the Old Testament through to the modern day, as clips of pop culture visions of religious history flash across the screen. As a primer on basic church history, and church politics, it’s hard to beat.

The bulk of the documentary will be familiar to a lot of Melbournians. As he approached retirement age, Bob was “invited” to retire from his parish of South Melbourne. The argument being that all priests have to retire, so it’s a formality. Except that Bob didn’t want to retire, and several other priests have continued into their 90s. The Archbishop was insistent but Bob dug in, sparking a grassroots campaign to save him and keep him in his parish. Ultimately he lost, but the really excellent work of this film is found in how it illustrates the deeper war inside the Catholic Church.

Since Vatican II in the early 1960s there has been a concerted effort by the conservative side of the faith to shut down the progressive forces that led to that historic council. And, up until the recent election of Pope Francis, they seemed to be winning. Bob’s struggle serves as a microcosm of the struggles of church workers everywhere trying to remain relevant to the people they serve, while head office deals in ideology and dogma, oblivious to the reality around them.

In Bob We Trust is a bittersweet experience by the end, but Father Bob is a genuinely inspiring figure and the chance to see behind the media facade to the bulk of his actual work is a welcome treat.




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