Movie Review: The Gospel According to St. Matthew

Dr. Pease told last week’s audience “that he and his wife had to pass through two picket fences when they first saw The Gospel According to Saint Matthew by Pier Paolo Pasolini.” The first picket line was for the director’s political affiliation since he was an Italian Communist and the second was for his sexual orientation since he was an open homosexual. Needless to say, I was intrigued to see how a homosexual-communist tackled the story of Jesus and his ministry.

Pasolini wanted to create a Christ story emphasizing the humanity of Jesus. This portrayal was effective due to his small budget, amateur actors and neo-realist style of filming. It didn’t overemphasize the miracles performed or the passion scene unlike more modern films.

Jesus condemns the religious authorities repeating “Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites,” three times and compares them to “a white-washed sepulcher.” This speech reinforced the film’s motif of sick interior concealed by an illusory exterior. After all, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” (Hamlet I.iv 67)

The Gospels’ typical antagonists (Judas, the Pharisees and chief priests) weren’t portrayed in a redeeming light. Judas resembled a hit-man for the Italian mafia in this movie. The chief priests were shown seeking Jesus’ death rather than silencing his radical message.

The only part that bothered me was the depiction of the sermon(s) on the mount. This scene was cut to show a passage of time and under a number of weather conditions. It reminded me of a “Best of Christ’s lectures as seen on T.V.” Other than that, the film was excellent and well paced.

Film direction was expertly done for this film. Many scenes were filmed from the perspective of Jesus’ disciples or the crowd following him to put the viewer in the moment. Much of Jesus’ persecution was shown from Peter’s point of view as he followed the crowd.

The best example of this was at the Last Supper when Jesus says, “’tis better for him to never have been born at all” looking directly at the audience. That scene alone demonstrates that Pasolini either had an exceptional talent for scene direction, or he was flat-out spiritually inspired.

Today and tonight, Dr. Pease will be showing Smiles of a Summer Night by Ingmar Bergman. Next week is a Spanish language film, The Exterminating Angel (El Angel Exterminator) by Luis Bunuel. Ask your Spanish professors if they’ll give extra credit for attending. I know I will.

The film festival is continuing every Tuesday at 3:30 and 7 p.m. in the Evans building room 105. All students and faculty are invited. Admission is free to anyone interested. Until then, see you at the movies!

Leave a Reply