• 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.

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    Sunday, April 16, 2017

    The Resurrection on Film
    Part 1 - Matthew's Gospel

    For Easter this year I thought I might make a series of short posts looking at each of the Gospels in turn and taking one or maybe two films that have sought to portray the resurrection in a manner that fits with that particular Gospel.

    Inherent in that is my fascination with the differences between how the various gospels depict the resurrection. Perhaps no incident that is recorded in all four gospels get such different treatment in each and this, combined with the fact that the resurrection is a hard enough thing to understand in the first place, let alone portray means that the resurrection is arguably the least well covered of the major events in Jesus' life.

    Matthew's Gospel has been adapted three times now. The more well known and cinematically revered is Pasolini's Il vangelo secondo Matteo and whilst this nicely captures certain aspects of the Gospel, its probably the one place where Pasolini slips from his sole use of Matthew into an approach that incorporates the other gospels a little more. The words are from Matthew, the flying tombstone is not.

    Then there is The Lumo Project's Gospel of Matthew. I've not yet watched this one, but essentially it's acted out footage with the gospel text narrated over the top.

    So I'm going to focus on the Visual Bible's Matthew. Far from the greatest silver screen portrayal of Jesus, but (certainly before the Lump Project's adaptation) the truest to Matthew's literal text. The txt itself is relatively short, just 20 verses compared to 66 for chapter 27 and 75 for chapter 26.

    Here, things are portrayed with the intention of fidelity. The women go to the tomb and find it empty, although we do not actually see the tomb itself. The reason for this is that the dramatic events that the author describes as prefiguring the moment of resurrection are here described rather than shown (with the exception of the earthquake which is portrayed by a shaky camera and a few rocks falling down). This is probably due to the difficulty in portraying credible angels - nearly all attempts at this are distracting - as well as budgetary constraints. It does however also add to the sense that the narrator is using a metaphor rather than offering a literal description. I don't imagine this is intentional, but I'll let you decide for yourselves on the importance of authorial intent.

    We then cut to the women returning from the tomb and meeting Jesus on the road. This is shot from a low angle and Jesus entering the scene from behind the camera. It's a nicely composed moment, which I suppose also catches the sense of not quite being sure who it is we are seeing, at least for a brief moment. It's a shame that it's followed up by a cheesy moment of a slow motion Jesus walking along accompanied by triumphant music. There are no nail marks on Jesus hands though for what it's worth.

    That moment clashes particularly noticeably with the next scene where the Pharisees try to bribe the soldiers. There's no real sense that the soldiers have any fear of the consequences of them failing in their duty. Caiaphas however hides his face in shame, presumably at the deception these faithful Jews are now embroiled in. This is actually a complete contrast with the text which doesn't even mention the Pharisees, and lays the blame with the chief priests and the elders.

    Finally we come to the Great Commission which takes place atop the same rock as the Sermon on the Mount. For a moment it looks like the filmmakers will resist having Jesus look directly in the camera, but then, seemingly unable to help themselves they close with Jesus smiling reassuringly straight at the audience. Artistically it's weak, but it's not hard to appreciate why the filmmakers chose to do it in such a fashion.

    The film ends however with a sort of epilogue: after a long fade to black the camera follows Jesus as he walks towards a lake. He turns for a moment, again looks at the camera and beckons (us) to follow him. He turns on a walks a little further before repeating his "follow me" gesture. The shot freezes mid pose and the credits roll. This ending seems more in keeping with the end of John (21:19's "follow me") than Matthew. Whereas Matthew the gospel gives his audience more of a sending out, here we get Jesus drawing us to himself. Perhaps that's splitting hairs, but then the point of this series is to focus on the little ranges like this that we find.

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