• 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


    Monday, April 04, 2011

    Testament: Ruth

    I recently came to the realisation that Ruth is one of my favourite books of the Hebrew Bible. It's fine reading about kings and prophets, mighty leaders and spiritual giants. Inspiring even. But, as is no doubt clear, I am not such a person and the chances are that you aren't either. For those of us lesser mortals, Ruth is our kinswoman. It's true she ultimately became the great grandmother of Israel's most famous king, but, at the same time, it's unlikely that she lived to know it.

    What I find inspiring about Ruth is that she is so ordinary. She didn't seem to aspire to greatness, indeed I doubt she would have been able to conceivable of any way in which she might still be talked about 3000 years later, and her achievements must have seemed modest. And yet three generations later her loyalty, faithfulness and love have had huge implications.

    The second thing that draws me to Ruth is the way she makes the right choices in the toughest of circumstances. Her story is told against a backdrop of famine grief and broken dreams. All she has left is her mother-in-law, and, watching this yesterday (Mother's Day in the UK), I was struck by what a fantastic example this is of how to honour one's mothers or strive for the best for one's (adult) child.

    At the same time there is a huge cultural gap between the story of Ruth and today, which both the text and Testament's adaptation of it highlight without losing the story's relevance for all cultures. It's a culture of where the thought can cross your mind of remarrying in order to have another son to marry your widowed daughter-in-law. It's a world of sealing contracts by taking off your sandal, gleaning etiquette and making sexual advances by uncovering the other person's feet.

    Other versions of this story never really capture the essence of this other world, but this film does it admirably. A key factor here is the choice of medium. The 3D puppets that the animators use lend the film a sense of nostalgia and tradition. Furthermore using an animated format from another culture, albeit a different culture from the one in which the story is set, heightens the feeling of otherness. At the same time the skill of the animators make Ruth an incredibly appealing figure capturing her vulnerability without making her seem a victim.

    The film's lighting and use of colour also heighten the power of the story. The early scenes of famine and the death of Naomi and Ruth's husbands are dark and at times fairly mono-chromatic, which contrasts with Ruth's brilliant blue robe. There are also a couple of other visual links to the Virgin Mary – another woman who gives birth to a "royal" son in Bethlehem. But the film as a whole makes use of a broad colour palate, often quite dramatically, whilst still maintaining that sense of the past, which is so critical even in the text's original context.

    It's also to the film's credit that it portrays Naomi as a little cranky early on. Again it's easy to portray Naomi as a helpless victim, but giving her this personality not only reflects the bitterness of her recent experience, but also gives her a sense of fight and strength of character. It also suggests that Ruth's actions not only provide for her mother-in-law, but draw Naomi out of her grief and bitterness.

    Whilst Ruth, through no fault of its own, lacks the dramatic source material of other films in the Testament series, it's poignant character study and visual form make it possibly the best entry in the nine-film series, giving a sense of what an ordinary life can look like when lived by the most unordinary values.

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    • At 7:49 pm, April 05, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      i wasn't aware of this one - my kids might actually enjoy it, since they found the claymation santa/mickey rooney movie so appealing (burger meister meister burger)

      ruth stands out for being a woman as well, a book named for a woman who was not a queen.

      ruth is one of the most popular names these days, according to the stats

      nice review, very heartfelt

    • At 10:54 am, April 06, 2011, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks for that. My kids certainly seemed to enjoy it, although I don't think it will displace any of their favourites any time soon.



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