It's an approach that is sorely tested sometimes so it's fortunate for fans of Mary and Joseph: A Story of Faith (1979) that it's also Christmas, the spirit of good cheer. So please don't remotely take the overall tone of what follows as any kind of endorsement.
So let me get my main criticism out of the way first of all: it's a very odd decision to make a Nativity film which is around two and a half hours long and then to cram in everything bar the annunciation into the last 18 minutes. Whilst this isn't quite the longest of the film's about Jesus' birth (that honour belongs to Ermano Olmi's Cammina, Cammina at 152 minutes, it shouldn't end feeling rushed.
The most interesting aspect of the film is the way it prefigures key events in Jesus' life by showing similar events happening to his ancestors. (Spoilers) The most significant of these is the crucifixion of Mary's father Joachim after critising King Herod to a mysterious stranger who turns out to be Herod himself in disguise (remember, it's Christmas). There's an obvious link between Joachim's death and that of his grandson, but it also shows Mary watching the death of a key male relative. Given Joachim's opposition to violent resistance against Herod and the Romans, his death also seems unjustified, the death of a man of peace on a cross.
This tendency pops up in other places too. Shortly after his death Mary is visiting Joachim's grave when the angel appears to her, but their conversation is prefacced by the words "Woman why area you crying" - the words Jesus speaks to another Mary at the tomb. Elsewhere Mary prays "into your hands I commit my soul", Joseph receives a flogging, and when he is released from the flogging post there is a brief Pieta. (End spoilers)
The other aspect of the film that caught my attention is the way Mary communicates her vision to Joseph. Instead of keeping it to herself until she is starting to show, she tells him about the vision immediately, meaning Joseph's initial concern is for Mary's sanity rather than her unfaithfulness, and it sheds an interesting light on Joseph's plans to "break off the engagement quietly".
Visually the choice of sets is really interesting. Having seen Matera and Ouarzazate used so often for biblical locations, it was interesting to see a different approach, the use of caves, particulalrly in close proximity to built housing gave the film a really different feel. The odd use of white, if not blond, actors, whilst clearly erroneous, also added to a nostalgic innocence that permeates the film. Unfortunately it also means that the film just feels far too cheesy in places, even at Christmas.
Labels: Nativity - Mary Joseph