• 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


    Wednesday, May 10, 2017

    Maestà, La Passion du Christ (2015)

    How should I describe Guérif's Maestà? It's a biblical film, certainly, but quite unlike any I have seen before. In fact quite unlike any film I have seen before. Indeed, even in writing that I wondered whether it is really a film or twenty-eight different shorts, as people sometimes ask whether the Bible itself is one book or a collection of books.

    From a distance Andy Guérif's film appears to be one single take of the main section of the back of Maestà of Duccio - an elaborate altarpiece painted for the Siena Cathedral by the artist Duccio di Buoninsegna. Yet withing the individual tableau the figures move. Initially these tableau appear empty, then one or two characters enter the frame-within-the-frame, often setting up the items they find there for the rest of the scene. They are soon joined by others and the action takes place before freezing suddenly, in an exact representation of Duccio's poses. Once the moment has been captured, the scene unfreezes and the characters leave the scene; in the majority of cases in order to move into the next cell in the sequence.

    However, the opening ten minutes of the film however is rather different. Instead of the full view of all twenty-six cells, we start zoomed in on the central crucifixion scene. This clues the audience in as to how the rest of the film will work so that when, after the titles, the camera pans out to reveal all twenty-six panels we know to look closely at where the action is taking place. It starts in the bottom left tableau - the Triumphal Entry - and works its way along the bottom row and onto the top, before finally returning to one last shot where all the scenes are repeated simultaneously.

    It's undoubtedly a film that would look best on a cinema screen. If you get the chance to see this one at home - it is currently screening on the home-streaming service MUBI (for a few more days) - then do so on your biggest screen and position yourself as close to it as is comfortable. Only this way can you see the details and where the action deviates slightly from what might be expected. In the Gethsemane scene Jesus splits off from himself - an interesting interpretation of 'withdrawing' in order to pray. At another point the mocking and scourging scenes take place at more or less the same time.

    The effect is not just merely quirky, as if for the sake of it, but stunning. Individuals scenes appear messy and occasionally gaudy, but somehow achieve perfection just as the action freezes. It makes the viewer look at and consider the painting in an entirely new way, but one that is thoroughly in keeping with the original work. It makes you want to see the original. If it had received widespread distribution Siena would doubtless be overrun.


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