"Noelle", a small faith-based film that got a limited theatrical release last Winter, has a story to tell about two priests whose lives change one Christmas.Father Jonathan Keene (David Wall) isn't your usual priest that preaches to his parishioners. Keene is haunted by his past guilt and slowly goes through the motions only to try and redeem his shortcomings. He arrives in the small village in Cape Cod to shut down a flailing parish where his old friend, Father Simeon Joyce (Sean Patrick Brennan) preaches. Father Simeon Joyce has to come to terms with the idea of his church coming to an end, while explaining outgoing funds, his drinking problem, and the way he approaches his position. Being old friends, Keene gives Joyce one chance to save his church by putting on a live nativity scene to draw in old and new believers to the church.
The live nativity doesn't go very well seeing as how most of the village is made up of older men and women who go over the top and then some with their performance. The quirky townspeople are amusing and add some lighter moments to the otherwise somber, ambient film. While trying to see to it that the church doesn't get shut down and the nativity goes well, Joyce and Keene try and convince skeptical librarian Marjorie (Kerry Wall, the director's wife) to play Mary. Just as soon as Marjorie agrees, she's told she's not allowed to participate since she's pregnant and unmarried to a man who has no intention of ever marrying her. Father Keene isn't a people person and doesn't warm easily to anyone he comes across, with the exception of Marjorie. Marjorie brings out something in Keene that he may have forgotten existed, or perhaps chose to never think about. They are an unlikely pair that provide something for each other, something they need in order to move forward and begin again.
Before long, Father Joyce hands over his position to Father Keene until the church is presumably shut down. Once Joyce is gone, the parishioners see no need to continue the nativity and focus instead on an upcoming traditional Christmas party. From there, truths are revealed and lives are unraveled only to be mended again. There are certainly moments of sentimentality here, several discussions of faith, and some of the acting is a bit forced, but over all this is a story of two men, both priests, making amends with their choices and their futures.
Being David Wall's second film (and first since 1996's "Joe and Joe"-a Sundance Film Festival Official Selection), "Noelle" maintains its quiet, artistic approach to a lively topic. Wall's collaboration with cinematographer Beecher Cotton is quite breathtaking in moments with some hauntingly beautiful shots of Cape Cod in winter. The music is also a marvelous addition to the film, as it adds a touch of emotion where needed and pulls back when the characters emotions are turned up. While this isn't a film without flaws, it's a story familiar at Christmas time of a man whose seeking something he can't find on his own.
VIDEO: "Noelle" is presented by Paramount in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This was generally an adequate presentation of the low-budget production, although it wasn't without some minor concerns at times. Sharpness and detail were somewhat uneven, as while some scenes could look moderately crisp and clear, some interiors and other sequences appeared mildly soft and - at times - slightly fuzzy.
Aside from the varying sharpness, some minor edge enhancement and artifacting was seen on a couple of occasions. The print appeared crisp and clear, aside from one or two very slight specks. Colors were intentionally subdued and chilly.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, although it really didn't require going beyond a stereo effort. The dialogue-driven presentation sounded fine, with dialogue sounding clear and natural.
The only extras on this DVD are Previews for:
"Hotel for Dogs"
"It's a Wonderful Life: 2 Disc Collector's Set"
"The Spiderwick Chronicles"
Final Thoughts: A quiet, subtle and sometimes moving drama, "Noelle" isn't without some concerns, but the screenplay and performances are generally fine. The DVD offers fine audio/video quality, but next-to-nothing in the way of extras.