The Gospel According to St Matthew (1964)

It’s a bit late for Easter, but I only got it from the library today, so here it is now. I was always intrigued by the idea of a professed non-believer making a Jesus film, and it was indeed an interesting experience to watch. The 1961 King of Kings was mocked as “I Was a Teenage Jesus” owing to star Jeffrey Hunter’s youthful looks, but Pasolini got a real teenage Jesus (Enrique Irazoqui, only 19), which colours this cinematic messiah extensively: Pasolini’s Christ is nothing if not an angry young man, an agitator for the poor who surround him, and like any good Marxist should be utterly convinced of his mission and his rightness. This tends to result in him coming across (at least he did to me) as more than a little arrogant, bordering on self-righteous religious mania, and frankly not the most likeable of Lords. Also, Pasolini’s handling of his material is interesting; it’s shot using neorealist methods (non-actors, locations, etc) making it look as rough-hewn as the Calabrian locale (not to mention the faces and teeth of some of his performers), but Pasolini’s determination to only use dialogue actually included in the Gospel itself gives the film a distinctly odd character, somewhat artificial and angular. If DeMille’s King was a totally late-20s Hollywood epic, Pasolini’s Vangelo is just as totally a mid-60s European art film with a curious mix of naturalism and stylisation at work. It’s an interesting film, though one I suspect I admire more than I actually like.

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