Father Bob McGuire, former parish priest of South Melbourne is a much loved, larger-than-life figure who, as a result of his mischievous, outspoken manner, pugnacious opposition to what he sees as antiquated Catholic Church practices and his life-long support of those less fortunate, has become an unlikely celebrity.
In 2009, the Catholic Church hierarchy informed Father Bob that, at 75, he had reached mandatory retirement age and had to relinquish his role of parish priest. This was despite the fact that older priests were still practising in some parishes. The documentary In Bob We Trust focuses on Father Bob’s fight to remain the South Melbourne parish priest and on his lifelong struggle with seemingly intractable authorities.
The film is clearly in Father Bob’s corner positing him as David to the Church’s goliath. It suggests that the Church may have wanted Father Bob gone because he was an activiist who disliked church bureaucracy, consorted with the secular world and used parish funds to do what he considered the Church’s real work, helping the poor. In fact, it’s Father Bob’s work with people living on the street, particularly those affected by what he describes as the 1980’s drug wars, more than his bureaucratic battles with Church hierarchy, that define this story. We meet a number of the former street kids whom Bob has helped including the man Father Bob took into his home, Costas Vasiliou.
While this film has considerable heart it unfortunately lacks clarity. Information about Father Bob’s personal history is told in unsatisfying fragments scattered throughout the film. These biographical segments are also not in chronological order. In addition, the documentary jumps about confusingly between Bob’s current dilemmas and doesn’t always provide sufficient detail about them; at one point Father Bob is hospitalised but the film doesn’t clarify what’s wrong nor does it update us on his current medical condition. Also, Father Bob’s unique way of speaking, which involves random observations, literary quotes, colloquial outbursts and sarcastic witticisms is occasionally befuddling. Add choppy, almost jump-cut editing and Father Bob’s story is, at times, a little hard to follow.
Like the man himself, the film has an audacious quality as it diverts from Bob’s daily trials into odd satirical segments. These include a bewildering rapid-fire history of Catholicism that mixes Father Bob’s acerbic streetwise interpretations of the gospel with religious images that appear so quickly they recall the subliminal barrage of Ludivico’s treatment in A Clockwork Orange. There’s also a parody of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal with Father Bob as the knight errant and Bob’s long-time JJJ sparring partner John Safran as Death. These segments provide greater insight into Father Bob’s spiritual side and are a thoughtful counterpoint to the film’s often frenzied approach.
In Bob We Trust tells a vital story of an amazing local character and his fight to remain a maverick and a man of great faith; if only it could have been told more clearly.
Nick’s rating: Three stars.
Director(s): Lyn-Maree Milburn.
Release date: 17th Oct 2013
Running time: 102 mins.
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