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    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


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    Tuesday, June 19, 2007

    Atti Degli Apostoli - Scene Analysis - Parts 1 to 4

    As I mentioned yesterday, I'm going to start my discussion of this film by analysing the different episodes (which I'll do over three posts) and then I'll finish by writing a review. I was unable to capture the individual titles of each episode. Gospel citations are as per my usual procedure.
    Episode 1
    [extra-biblical episode - Background to the story]
    Recap of Crucifixion – (Mark 14:1-25)
    The Disciples Gather - (Acts 1:13-14)
    Recap of the Ascension - (Acts 1:3-12)
    Recap of Death of Judas – (Acts 1:15-20, Matt 27:3-7)
    Election of Matthias - (Acts 1:21-26)
    Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost - (Acts 2:1-41)

    (Episode 2)
    Peter and John heal a Crippled Beggar – (Acts 3:1-10)
    Peter Speaks to the Crowd - (Acts 3:11-26)
    Peter and John Arrested - (Acts 4:1-14)
    Caiaphas and Annas Decide to Release Peter and John - (Acts 4:15-22)
    Disciples Pray - (Acts 4:23-31)
    Jesus's Teaching Recalled - (John 15:18-21, Matt 10:29-31; Matt 18:20 / Thom 30)
    Disciples Share Communion - (1 Cor 11:23-26)

    Episode 3
    Deaths of Ananias and Sapphira Recounted - (Acts 5:1-11)
    Recap of Jesus giving Lord's prayer - (Matt 6:6-15)
    Recap of the Woman at the Well - (John 4:1-42)
    The Father's testimony about Jesus Recalled - (John 8:13-19)
    [extra-biblical episode]
    Peter and John Re-arrested - (Acts 5:21-41)
    Recount of Jesus's Trial Before Sanhedrin - (Mark 14:53-64)
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    (Luke 10:3)
    Appointment of the 7 Servants - (Acts 6:1-7)

    Episode 4
    Arrest, Trial and Death of Stephen - (Acts 6:8-8:1a, Mark 2:27))
    Church is Persecuted - (Acts 8:1b-3, John 16:33)
    Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch - (Acts 8:26-38)
    Saul Gets Permission to Capture Christians - (Acts 8:1b-3)
    Conversion of Saul - (Acts 9:1-19, Acts 2:34-36)
    Escape from Damascus - (Acts 9:20-25)
    (The even numbered episodes are shown in brackets as the title cards were cut out to enable the two episodes to be "neatly" spliced together. It was generally obvious where one part finish and the next one started, but there is a certain amount of guess work involved. I should add that some releases of this film appear to have been in hour long segments anyway).

    Roughly two thirds of the first episode is a conversation between two fictional characters who disappear from the story at the start of episode 2 never to be seen again. A Greek slave shows a Roman official around Jerusalem and gives him (and us) and detailed historical background to the city of Jerusalem and recent events. This is actually a common part of Rossellini's style, particularly during his historical film period. It's an unusual technique, but feels less forced than in many other films where the scriptwriter tries to shoehorn historical information into casual conversations. Whilst this technique is not particularly realistic it does enable the construction of a robust historical framework for the story that follows.

    That said narration is very common technique in this production. The disciples frequently recount events from their time with Jesus. There are some particularly interesting touched here. John, for example, quotes Jesus fairly often, always using words from the gospel which took his name. We also hear Thomas reciting Jesus's saying "where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name I am there also". This is the canonical version of this promise, which is also included, albeit slightly differently, in the Gospel of Thomas (saying 30). "Where there are two or one, I am with him".

    Another notable example of this is in the first conversation we hear between the disciples based on Acts 1:15-26. Here the death of Judas is discussed, and interestingly the film tries to merge the divergent accounts of Matthew and Luke (Matt 27:3-7, Acts 1:15-20). Judas buys the field (as per Acts), but is credited as killing himself (as per Matthew).

    There are also numerous examples when the disciples gather - something that occurs frequently in this version of the story. In particular, episode 2 features the disciples gathering after the events of Pentecost and the healing of the crippled beggar, and sharing communion for what appears to be the first time since Jesus's ascension. Jesus teaching is cited on several occasions, by various disciples. Much of episode 3 is similar.

    Episode 4 opens with the arrest of Stephen who is seized not for being a Christian, or because of his superior debating skills, but because he is working on the Sabbath. His stoning is shown in a long shot with Stephen in the foreground, but his executioners included in the shot. In some ways the shot is detached from any particular point of view. Yet it also implicates us in the action and is most closely associated with the perspective of the other non-participant in the action - Saul (especially as we will increasingly share his perspective from this point in).

    At the same time we are on the same level as Stephen, and distanced from his killers. There are so many ways this scene could have been shot, for example with heavy editing like the shower scene in Psycho that the choice of this realistic manner speaks volumes, particularly about the culpability of those who see but fails to act. Stephen's body is subsequently hung upside down from a tree.

    The rest of this episode covers the resulting persecution of the Christians under Saul and his subsequent conversion. Saul's vision on the road to Damascus is filmed very ambiguously. There is a flash of lightning, a close up of Saul and then a shot of him being carried by his (former) cohorts. We see no vision and hear no voice. Whilst this could be seen as demythologising it actually only reflects the ambiguity of all three accounts found in Acts. The light is visible to all, but only Paul hears and understands the voice. Again Rossellini places his audience in the place of the neutral observer rather than the protagonist.

    A similar approach was used for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The camera is not amongst the disciples at the crucial moment, but on the street surrounded by the general populace. There is a flash of darkness and then the disciples rush out. Their behaviour suggests a radical change, but the extent to which any tongues of fire would have been visible to a neutral observer is left to interpretation.

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    • At 6:13 am, September 15, 2010, Anonymous Tom Billington said…

      I thank you for this most interesting post about Atti Degli Apostoli by Rossellini. I would very much like to view this series and/or purchase it, in particular Episode 4. I have been looking everywhere for a version. Do you know how I can view and/or obtain the series? My email: tbillington1@yahoo.com. Thanks.

      Tom B.

    • At 11:19 am, September 16, 2010, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for your message. I'm afraid that as far as I know this has never been released in any format. I was lucky enough to catch it when it played in London as part of the Rossellini retrospective a couple of years back. I believe there are various disputes over the rights of some of Rossellini's later work which might be part of the problem with this one.

      Sorry that's not much help. If you find it anywhere though, then please do let me know.


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