Thursday, August 4, 2011

Gospel According to Matthew (Il vangelo secondo Matteo)

Pasolini, 1964, 132m

The most widely accepted accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus are the four Gospels, which are included in the New Testament. The life of Jesus is told here following closely the version of Matthew, the first of these four. Pasolini was a professed atheist and Marxist, but it would appear that his artistic vein is deeper than his skin deep ideology. He is a strident humanist and belongs to that season when Marxism was often synonymous with sympathy for the downtrodden and inarticulate.

The visual beauty of the film lies in the ramshackle villages from another century sprawled on the mountainside, with ragged urchins and tattered peasants crowding the narrow labyrinthine lanes. A smug and voluble Christ is played by a university student who looks like one. There is little of dialog or script and the movie is virtually a reading of the text of the Gospel, with a rather noisy and jarring musical score which keeps alternating between Bach and Negro spirituals. What does come through with some force is the conviction of the message, whose revolutionary aspect is mainly in the divine identity of it's deliverer. The ethical content is probably not drastically different from the values which may have prevailed more in conspicuous neglect than observance.

The divinity of Jesus is not stressed and the miracles are just stated in a matter of fact way by way of textual faithfulness. This may be as things may have actually looked like, the extra ordinariness lying in the inner fire that must have blazed inside him.

The film is helpful as an introduction or a revision exercise in the essence of the Christian outlook and teachings. The final feeling is of a rather bleak and dreary other worldly outlook. The film drags on a bit too long to its depressing conclusion. Guilt and sinfulness are not pleasant baggage.

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