GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW
reviewing a film like this, it’s easy to allow one’s
own religious views to colour opinion and interpretation, not
only of the film for the reviewer, but also of the review for
the reader. So to be clear: all comments criticisms below relate
to the film, the interpretation of the story and the characters
as displayed in the movie – nothing more. Okay, fanatics?
The Gospel According to Matthew is at once one
of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s most commercial yet difficult films.
Given that it’s a straightforward Biblical adaptation from
a notorious gay Marxist atheist, that might be understandable.
But while this might well be loved by committed Christians who
live, breathe and eat the Bible, it’s a little harder to
take for those of us who are not, simply because while the story
is familiar to everyone, the film itself plays like a selection
of the Best Bits of the Gospel, with little room for character
development or story progression. Rather than trying to craft
a compulsive narrative, Pasolini instead just grabs the highlights
of the story and presents them as a series of individual moments.
So we go from Christ’s birth, through Herod’s surprisingly
graphic slaughter of the first born to the meetings with John
the Baptist and the disciples and the eventual crucifixion and
resurrection, without ever really getting a feel for any of the
people we meet. For worshippers who feel they know Jesus and the
other characters in this story like their own family, this might
not be a problem; for others, it will be. And as we’ve seen
from other filmmakers, it is possible to humanise these familiar
characters and tell this story as a coherent narrative –
for whatever reason, Pasolini fails to do so here.I'm sure that
was an intentional move on his part, but personally, I think it
was a mistake.
the Christ here is very much a Catholic (and possibly evangelical)
interpretation, more about punishing the guilty than saving the
sinner, and also a Pasolini interpretation - Christ as revolutionary
firebrand. Enrique Irazoqui looks more like a Hoxton hipster than
the usual hippy Jesus, and plays the role with a furious intensity.
This is a Christ less interested in forgiveness than Old Testament
style punishment for the mildest transgression against his word
(and if the film does anything, it certainly shows the rampant
contradictions of the Bible, as Christ goes from preaching love,
peace and forgiveness to promising fire and brimstone within moments).
Irazoqui often looks on the verge of erupting with anger –
though ironically, the scene of his throwing the merchants out
of the temple is ineffectually weak.
Now, don’t get me wrong – there is much to admire
here, in technique if not in narrative. Pasolini brings a neo-realism
style to his story, making it far removed from the glossy Hollywood
Biblical epics that preceded it. His authentic locations (the
disc includes a one hour documentary following him as he scouts
locations across Israel, though the film ended up being shot in
Sicily), his cast of well-worn faces and his blunt visual style
all give this a documentary authenticity, while his use of music,
jumping from classical to blues, is inspired. He certainly doesn’t
hold back from showing the brutality of the times – even
now, there are shocking moments here (and it’s unlikely
that the BBFC would grant such scenes a ‘U’ certificate
in any non-biblical film), while the film as a whole has a stark
beauty to it, with some of the most remarkable visual tableaus
you could hope to see.
Constantly intriguing, often frustrating, The Gospel According
to Matthew is more a film to admire than enjoy. It should
be seen, by all means – but expect to be as irritated as
you are impressed.
IT NOW (UK)