Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Gospel According to St. Matthew

Il Vangelo secondo Matteo; Drama, Italy, 1964; D: Pier Paolo Pasolini, S: Enrique Irazoqui, Settiio Di Porto, Alfonso Gatto, Luigi Barbini, Giacomo Morante, Giorgio Agamberi, Susanna Pasolini

Bethlehem. Joseph is surprised because his wife Mary is pregnant. An angel in form of a girl announces that his son is chosen by God and that he should flee to Egypt. After their child, Jesus, is born, they flee to Egypt and return a few years later. Jesus, as a grown man, is baptised by John in Jordan. Soon he finds 12 apostles and travels through the land to heal the sick, teach about the life and give people hope. When he enters Jerusalem the people are disturbed by his preachings. He is betrayed by Judas and captured by Roman soldiers. They crucify him and he dies on a cross. But after his death, he once again appears and contacts with the people.

"The Gospel According to St. Matthew", nominated for an Oscar for best art direction, costume design and music, is an interesting film from the unusual, secular director Pier Paolo Pasolini, his only achievement that didn't cause a controversy. As with most of Pasolini's films, this one too is more poetry than film, a static, metaphysical, subconscious achievement full with anti-acting and non professional actors, where atmosphere and subliminal messages are more important than logic and realism (for instance, the miracles, like walking on water or multiplying fish and bread, are filmed deliberately artificial, to point out their own artificial - artistic, not realistic - nature). It's even interesting to contemplate if Jesus is shown as a revolutionary with Marxist/anti-bourgeois messages ("It is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven"), a philosopher and sometimes even harsh person. But, the problem with "The Gospel" is that it tightly follows the text from the New Testament almost word for word, not adding almost anything new or original, thus not distinguishing itself from thousands and thousands of other Jesus Christ films, that resemble each other like one egg the other. The only original scenes are one where Jesus dies on a cross while an earthquake destroys parts of a few nearby houses or when, in the opening, slightly comical shots, Joseph is confusingly watching his pregnant wife Mary. Jesus as a character is solidly developed, but somewhat inert, stiff and lifeless, being created only from the abstract and outdated original text, reducing the emotional impact. "The Gospel" is an ambitious and quality achievement, but not as intense and stimulating as one would expect from a director like Pasolini.


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