Friday, May 13, 2011
The Gospel According to St. Matthew
I watched The Gospel According to St. Matthew, directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1964. It tells the story of Jesus, from his birth until his crucifixion and resurrection. I don't find myself a particularly religious person - my beliefs tend to range from "meh" to "hrm" on any given day. However, I liked the movie - not loved, probably would not watch it again, but I liked it's version of these events.
It was stark and normal. The actors looked human, and were just regular people. It felt like a documentary, not a flashy epic. I hated the infamous The Passion of the Christ, and this is such a refreshing change from that sort of overt and gross violence. There is suffering, but it is restrained, and is not the point of the movie. It's just very frank and straightforward, and I think that is the strength of the movie. There isn't too much drama about anything that happens - things simply happen. He walks on water, but not much is made of it, we just see him do it with no swell of music or exclamations. I like this sort of style, because it feels so real and interesting. The director is simply telling us what happened, not how to feel about it, and I love that.
There is not much dialogue, and what there is seems to be straight from the Bible (although I'm not the one to ask about this sort of thing). Nothing is interpreted for us, just told to us. I think it makes the film more personal, because viewers are left to think about the passages and quotations on there own, to parse the language and come to their own conclusions. I was thinking today that sometimes a lot of the original intent of things is lost the more we try to simply it to avoid big words and archaic language. I liked that nothing was too different here - everyone spoke the way they do in the Bible (I think) and it sounded much more beautiful and poetic.
What is so interesting to me is that in Ebert's essay, he mentions that "Pasolini was an atheist, a Marxist and a homosexual" (Great Movies II, 169). He elaborates about why he decided to make a film about Jesus, and it's very fascinating, so go check out his essay yourself. I think it's really intriguing that Pasolini was not a Christian, and just wanted to tell this story. It seems like he had the, I don't know, the purest of intentions, unlike, say, Mel Gibson or something. It certainly explains the frankness in which everything is treated, I think. He isn't so personally involved in the stories, he is simply telling them for us to feel about them how we will.
Ebert writes that the film is "is one of the most effective films on a religious theme I have ever seen, perhaps because it was made by a nonbeliever who did not preach, glorify, underline, sentimentalize or romanticize his famous story, but tried his best to simply record it" (Great Movies II, 169). I do agree a little on this point. I felt much more emotions and love for this movie than I have for any other religious themed film, although I haven't seen many. I just really loved the lack of emphasis on the "big and exciting" miracles, and the way he handled the more violent acts of the film. He treated like, as I said, a documentary, and it makes the story more compelling, since we have to put our own thoughts and feelings in order, not just be spoon-fed some.
If I sound less than enthusiastic, it's just because I've had a long day and I'm tired. I also, like I said, liked this movie, but didn't love it. I think it was one of the best religious movies I've ever seen, I can more than understand why Ebert put this on his list. However, for me personally, it didn't really raise any strong emotions other than "This is really masterfully made." Perhaps I'm simply too tired and in pain for deeper thoughts, who knows. I feel bad, because it's weird to appreciate something but not really like it a whole ton, but there you go. Strange moods, I tell you. This was on Netflix Instant, and it's also on Amazon, so it's worth checking out. It's feels really unique to me to see such a straightforward, beautiful, and unbiased movie with these themes. Let me know if you watch it!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Gospel According to St. Matthew
Buy or rent it at Amazon