While the Hollywood Jesus epics were floundering at the box office, another film found a growing audience in art house cinemas. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew was a black and white Italian film which used non-professional actors to portray the ordinary people of Jesus’ time.
Today, Pasolini’s film about Jesus is the one most respected among film critics. Its stark, hand-held cinematography, its passionate, driven Jesus, and its dreamy, meditative feel all combine to make a film that is rewarding on multiple viewings.
Pasolini uses the camera in interesting ways, such as placing it among the crowds listening to Jesus as if it is straining to see him, or following behind him as if it is struggling to keep up. The soundtrack blends a range of music from Bach to Billie Holiday, and Mozart to Missa Luba, yet there’s also a certain quietness about this film.
As the title suggests, almost all the words used in the film are found in Matthew’s Gospel, although the screenplay rearranges various scenes and adds a few words from Isaiah. Pasolini was a Marxist, so perhaps unsurprisingly his Jesus is a social revolutionary, hurrying around Galilee’s peasant villages preaching about a political Kingdom of God which was for all the people, rather than just the privileged few.
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It’s “the greatest story ever told”, according to one famous movie title, and among these films is the alleged most watched film of all time. In these pages we review some of the most significant Jesus movies made over the past 50 years.
Written by Matt Page
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