• 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


    Thursday, August 17, 2017

    Chasing the Star (2017)

    Having had only the most limited theatrical release back in April, Brett Miller's Chasing the Star comes out on DVD next month, several weeks ahead of Sony's CGI animation The Star hitting cinemas in November. Miller's film is the second in the Quest Trilogy, a series of three films produced by Collective Development and written by DJ Perry. But whereas Perry also starred in the trilogy's opening entry, 40 Nights, here Perry takes a back seat, leaving Garry Nation, Randy Spence and Bello Pizzimenti to take the roles of the magi, and Ralph Lister to play a ripely paranoid Herod. Also starring are Taymour Ghazi and Rance Howard who share the role of Satan.

    Keen eyed observers will have noticed the absence from the above cast list of the names of actors playing Mary and Joseph: The film's most daring move is to skip over the birth of Jesus entirely and just to focus on the stories of the three magi. Such a move does two things. Firstly it steers the film away from the schmaltzy and sentimental moment that so typifies films about the birth of Jesus. This suits Perry and Miller's agenda down to the ground. Just as 40 Nights presented a tougher, earthier Christ, this film aims for a similar aesthetic. A story about the three kings, visiting Herod's palace could present an opportunity for kitsch and bling on an epic scale. Here however, the film roots the Magi more thoroughly in Zoroastrianism than any previous film and it strips down potential gaudy elements to the extent that even Herod doesn't even wear a crown. Like 40 Nights the film is more about psychology than pageantry.

    The second thing such a move achieves is shine a spotlight on a new area. Shorn of the traditional story's natural climax, the film culminates in the magi's final encounter with Gabriel. On a plot level this enables them to escape Herod's traps, but more fundamentally it brings closure to the magi's own stories and a redemption that is not based so much on pilgrimage as coming to terms with the past. There are two other notable films about the Magi, Ermanno Olmi's Cammina, Cammina (Keep on Walking, 1982) and Albert Serra's El cant dels ocells (Birdsong, 2010), but whereas those films were primarily concerned with the journey, Chasing the Star is more about the characters making it. There's an emphasis on dialogue, with a multitude of scenes where the characters just talk to one another. It's a film almost about what happens in-between the gaps in the narrative, than about the story itself.

    This is underscored by the film's irregular timeline. Whilst its primary narrative about the magi's journey to see Jesus moves forward chronologically, it is peppered with flashbacks to the magi's previous lives. All three men have significant issues with their past. Melchior, the eldest, was orphaned at a young age. His younger colleagues had very different experiences with their fathers. Gaspar's father pushed him into the priesthood ("I am my father's Isaac, but with no ram to replace me") with no thought for the feelings of love. Balthazar's wanted to keep him close rather than let his son fulfil his priestly ambitions.

    Given many of writer and co-producer Perry's previous work, it might be tempting to discount the film as just a Christian movie. But that would be a mistake as Chasing the Star avoids the major pitfalls of the typical Christian movie. Instead, as with 40 Nights, there's real filmmaking craftsmanship on display. Miller came into directing having previously been a cinematographer and it really shows in the quality of the image, composition, lighting, filters and overall look of the film. Dennis Therrian's score enhances the film's mysterious feel.

    No less importantly, it avoids the trap of forcing it's "message". In fact it's not even clear that it has 'a message'. It's certainly not a sermon wrapped in an all too thin and transparent veil. The filmmakers don't seem to be pushing an agenda.

    Instead the film is happy to introduce us to its characters and help us get to know them better. It's a story most know from a very young age, but few consider the real people behind it and the choices they made, and the lives they left behind, to try to reach something beyond themselves.

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