Profiling the efforts of a courageous nun to change the way her faith discussed a crucial issue, Sister Rose's Passion was produced at least in part as a response to the then-upcoming Mel Gibson film The Passion of The Christ. That's because Sister Rose Thering has been associated with the conflict between the story of Christ's crucifixion and the relationship between Christians and Jews since she wrote her dissertation in 1961.
While researching the treatment of Jews in Catholic textbooks she discovered a lot of hateful generalization and historically unfounded anti-Semitism. Her dissertation received a lot of publicity in the Catholic community and, despite some pretty heavy reactions, eventually found its way into Vatican doctrine, spurring the 1965 papal reforms that officially refuted the practice of blaming all Jews for Christ's death.
Unfortunately the documentary itself (which runs under 40 minutes in length) is lacking in passion of its own. Sister Rose is a lively enough subject but there is little so say on the subject. Even at its short running time the film repeats its few basic points many times. The history of church-mandated anti-Semitism is long and complex but the film sort of boils it down to a few anecdotes and talking heads. If not for the seeming urgency of reiterating Sister Rose's message in advance of Gibson's film (which springs from a version of Catholicism that rejects the 1965 reforms among others) the film would make no case for its existence at all.
For such a short production it manages to lose steam several times. This sort of documentary, unfortunately, gives legitimacy to the cliché that films dealing at least partly with Holocaust-related issues have a trumped-up shot at an Oscar nomination. Sister Rose's Passion would make a fine episode of Frontline but as a theatrical documentary it's not engaging enough.
The full frame video is mostly clean and pleasantly colorful. Darker scenes seem to display some compression artifacting at times but overall it's a fine presentation.
The Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack is clear for the most part. There are some scenes where Rose speaks with groups of people where the location recording is understandably flawed, but overall it's fine.
Additional clips add about thirty minutes of material to the disc. A short segment from the Tribeca Film Festival (the film won best documentary short) and director Oren Jacoby's appearance on The Charlie Rose Show are also included, along with text screens from the director. Annoyingly, the packaging lists the total running time for the entire DVD (88 minutes) and not the running time for the feature itself (less than half that). It makes the disc feel awful thin on content.
A worthwhile subject with a somewhat subdued treatment, Sister Rose's Passion is not as engaging as its creators (or the Academy) would lead us to believe. Those interested would be better off giving it a rent or keeping an eye on PBS or cable for it.