• Bible Films Blog

    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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    Wednesday, December 08, 2010

    Gospel of John:4-6

    Chapter 4 of John's Gospel starts with Jesus taking a short cut through Samaria and his meeting with a Samaritan Woman. It's a fairly rare scene in Jesus films. On the one hand this is a surprise: most films try to up the involvement of women to widen their appeal to both sexes. However, at the same time one of the ways that they do this is to enhance the role of key women (notably the Marys of Nazareth, Magdalene and Bethany) in order to make them into more fully rounded, fleshed out characters. This women is clearly not any of those three. She's not even Jewish.

    So whilst it's not the realms of possibility that a filmmaker might try and mix her in with her Mary Magdalene it hasn't happened yet (as far as I can recall at least). Only a handful of films have shown this scene although it does appear in the earliest Jesus film I have seen La Vie du Christ (1899) and its subsequent updates (Life and Passion of Jesus Christ (1902-1905) and Son of Man (1915)). I think its significant that these films were more tableaux than films about people with developed plots.

    Since then only the Living Christ Series and Il Messia have covered this story aside from the Gospel of John. It's disappointing then that this scene is relatively poor. Perhaps its just me, but I don't find the actress playing the Samaritan to be at all convincing. She seems fairly at ease with her state in life (whereas I think she would be far more broken), she looks Jesus in the eye, and whilst there is a hint of flirtatiousness there's little to connect her to her past. Even the way she runs through the disciples rather than around them suggests confidence.

    One of the differences between John's Gospel and the Synoptics (only Matt and Luke in this case) is that whereas they have a centurion asking Jesus to heal his servant, John has a basilikos (translated variously as courtier / royal official / nobleman). Given that this occurrence happens in Cana, Galilee (Capernaum in Matt/Luke) it seems likely that a courtier would be from Herod's court, rather than a Roman. Yet here, either sub-consciously or in a deliberate attempt to harmonise John with Matthew and Luke, the official comes in the garb of a Roman soldier.

    I've commented on the this film's portrayal of the healing at the pool before, and I've nothing more to add this time around. What follows is a confrontation with the Jewish authorities (as the Good News translation, and therefore this film, has it). This ends in the shot above which is meant to be artful, but ends up feeling rather contrived. I am interested however in the contrasting use of black and white clothing for Jesus' opponents. I've been noticing recently how often Jesus' opponents wear black - which certainly goes a way to suggesting that they are the "bad guys", and therefore is rather unhelpful. Is this, then, an attempt to restore some balance, or a way of showing that Judaism was actually rather diverse at this point with different parties with strongly opposing views? For most of the rest of the film the Jewish authorities wear black, but this perhaps ties in with the opening title card explaining that the gospel perhaps exaggerates / invents some of the enmity that existed. By depicting these opponents in such a caricatured fashion it encourages the audience to take the extent of their opposition less seriously.

    I quite like the portrayal of the feeding of the five thousand here, barring the moment when everyone all gets up at once, which is a little unconvincing. But the lack of fanfare surrounding the miracle itself is a nice piece of understatement.

    Rather more showy is the scene of Jesus walking on water. This film is now 7 years old, but it holds up reasonably well. Of course we know that some of this was done with a blue screen, and other bits are done in a water tank, but it works reasonably well.



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