Noelle

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Gener8Xion Entertainment

Arriving just in time for the holidays is this low-budget, religious-themed indie drama, which was released in some 200-plus theaters last week by Gener8Xion Entertainment, the company that brought you such similarly oriented films as "The Omega Code" and "One Night With the King."

"Noelle" is an interesting and heartfelt effort, even if it is ultimately too low-key to make much of a theatrical impact. Home video prospects should be brighter.

Written, directed by and starring David Wall, the film concerns Father Jonathan Keene, a sort of hit man for the Catholic Church whose specialty is shutting down unproductive parishes. As the film begins, Keene has arrived just before Christmas in a small Cape Cod village where the church pastor, Father Simeon Joyce (Sean Patrick Brennan), turns out to be an old friend from Keene's seminary days.

Using church funds to pay off his parishioner's medical bills and spending most of his time getting drunk in the local pub, Simeon is hardly a model figure. But thanks to their friendship and his growing fascination with Marjorie (Kerry Brennan, the filmmaker's real-life spouse), a beautiful librarian, Keene decides to help the church regain its financial footing by staging a nativity play on Christmas Eve. Hindering his plans is the villagers' preference for attending an annual local party and Marjorie's refusal to play the Virgin Mary. When Keene also discovers that the unmarried woman is pregnant, it brings up his own feelings of guilt over an incident from his past, represented by the recurrent fantastical appearances of a little girl.

The story's Dickensian influences are a little too apparent in Wall's often crude screenplay. But the film nevertheless gets under your skin, due largely to the fascinatingly prickly nature of the central character, who confesses that as a priest he was "never that into the people side of things." He's well played by Wall, even if the actor-filmmaker's uncanny resemblance to Robert Redford in his "The Way We Were" days (with a little bit of Mike Myers thrown in) is more than a little distracting.
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