Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Gospel According to St. Matthew -
Pier Paolo Pasolini (1964)

I was actually looking forward to this one, even before I just realized it made #30 on the Directors' part of the 2012 Sight & Sound poll.

Thirty... just like pieces of silver.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo)
dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini. 1964, Italy.
Sight & Sound 2012: Critics' #235 / Directors' #30
Roger Ebert's Great Movies
DVD from Amazon
Watch via Amazon Instant / Hulu-Plus

The Gospel According to St. Matthew trailer (1964)

Jesus: Behold, I am with you always, unto the end of the world.

Okay, straight up: I am not such a big fan of Italian neorealism. I mean, I'm sure it had a positive impact on film, and I'm sympathetic to the concepts. And I thought it would be revelatory for the Jesus story (here adapted literally from the New Testament book as a script). But in the end, I can't get past all the non-actors with all the non-acting. Maybe the fatal flaw was the English dubbing (on Hulu) - the only dub so far this month, I think. That was distracting, but still... For the most part, I didn't find myself too engaged with the movie.

A very surprising high point was the special effects. The leper (or monster or Elephant Man) leapt off the screen. Jesus walking on the water was striking. The suicide of Judas was chilling. Oh, and I don't remember an earthquake during the crufixion in any other versions. The use of an old blues song (Odetta?) shocked me. The cinematography was generally impressive, although some of the close-ups of non-acting frozen faces came across like portraiture (possibly intentional). The editing was noticeably economical and brisk - and there was a blunt lack of character introduction and exposition. All theoretically refreshing, and better than a super-reverential major Hollywood production, but I just didn't see the #30 movie that the S&S directors saw.

I'm not sure how these statistics were arrived at, but Catholic Trailers calls this the Vatican’s Greatest Films #06. Also can't vouch for this... but if true, cool: "In 1962 Pier Paolo Pasolini (Director) went to Assisi in response to Pope John XXIII's call for dialogue with non-Christian artists. While he was there Pasolini read through the Gospels from beginning to end, like a novel. After this experience he became obsessed with the idea of filming the life of Christ right out of the Gospel word-by-word. After Pasolini completed The Gospel According to Matthew he dedicated the film to Pope John XXIII." (Just realized this info is also in the Great Movies article linked above.)

O yes, almost forgot! The opening scenes with pregnant Virgin Mary, skeptical Joseph and the Angel of the Lord, are very good. Like the silent Germans, I might have to track down a better (subtitled) version and re-evaluate.

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