• 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


    Tuesday, May 14, 2019

    Delving Deeper into Il vangelo secondo Matteo - Part 2

    Having outlined in my first post in this series the need to take in wider perspectives on Pasolini's Il vangelo secondo Matteo I thought I would now look at some of the other key writings on the film that I have been studying.

    First is Zygmunt G. Barański's "The Texts of Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo" in the book he himself has edited, "Pasolini Old and New". (Page numbers alone in brackets refer to this work) The fact that Barański is established enough to be able to pull together a series of essays on Pasolini and considers of all the Pasolini's films, the one he wishes to cover is Il vangelo gives a certain air to his commitment to the subject. This is important because he main thrust of Barański's argument is that it is a mistake to give too much weight to what Pasolini has said on the subject, as opposed to the filmic text itself.

    Barański starts by noting that "incongruities may be noticed between the finished film and many of Pasolini's statements about it" (282). This is in part because Pasolini began developing this film two years before its release in 1964, during which time he made frequent statements about it to the press meaning that "discrepancies between the film and comments about it were inevitable" (282). However he also finds that many of Pasolini's statements about the film, even after it was completed, do not tally with the film itself. This problem is worsened by the fact that much of the discussion about the film has tried "to integrate Pasolini's comments...with the film itself. The "film has been lost among its interpretations" (282). Barański never actually makes the observation that Pasolini's pronouncements on the film have 'become Gospel', but as a native English speaker, I'm afraid I cannot resist. In particular, as interesting as Oswald Stack's Pasolini on Pasolini is, Pasolini's words there get repeated time after time after time in scholarly discourse, as if authorial intent, or rather authorial claims of intent are the final word on a film's meaning.

    Nevertheless, Barański starts by outlining those very statements, alongside a number of other pronouncements, particularly those around the film's "analogical" approach (Stack, 82); presentation of "the history of Christ constructed out of two thousand years of Christian interpretation" (Pasolini, 33); and, its supposed "fidelity to the original" (284). Barański finds, however that these ideas are in conflict with each other and that "it is difficult to escape the conclusion that he was openly adding to the myriad interpretations of he Gospel" (288). "His diverging pronouncements do seem to fit in with that general intellectual uncertainty which characterized his thinking during the early to mid-Sixties" (288).

    Barański then examines the films structure, including a detailed examination of an example of how "Pasolini fashioned a single new narrative unit by synthesizing...four discrete yet contiguous episodes" from Matthew 11:25-12:21 (292). In particular he notes how the film "is more tightly organized than its source, since it has quite a marked circular structure which the Gospel lacks" (295). He also notes how "Pasolini eliminates Matthew and substitutes himself as a new 'evangelist' and source of information about Christ" even excluding his calling (296). This leads him to another section on Pasolini's "Deletions" from the text (296-300), most notably the miracles which Barański finds "presented as something illogical and arbitrary" suggesting that they are "marginal to Pasolini's view of Jesus"(298).

    I started this series by discussing he film's much vaunted "neorealism" and Barański eventually takes on questions of Pasolini's style, citing "documentary techniques (the sequences in cinema vérité and newsreel style" (303), "unearthed 'home movie'" (304), and a range of "'realist' practices", but also "'expressionistic' stylistic devices" (305). He (Barański) does however consider that the "role of 'analogy' is actually much less evident than might appear from Pasolini's explanations" (304). He summarises as follows:
    "He depicts Jesus according to different stylistic conventions, from the expressionism of the Baptism to the cinema vérité treatment of the trials, and from Neo-realism to his own sacralità frontale. It is as if Pasolini hopes that one or a combination of all these techniques might offer a definitive insight. (310)
    .In Barański's final analysis the film is not the "faithful adaptation" (314) it is considered to be, indeed it "diverges sharply from its source "to challenge its status (314). He finds Pasolini's film is "not so much about Christ as about texts on Christ" (314). "He is adding a new layer to the image of Christ by highlighting the conventionality of his apparently 'realistic' film" (314). Calling it Pasolini's "great Godardian moment" (314) he concludes that the film's "style and structure" (314) articulate that which Pasolini could not at the time.


    Barański, Zygmunt G. (1999) "The Texts of Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo" in Barański (ed.) Pasolini Old and New: Surveys and Studies. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

    Pasolini, Pier Paolo (1983) Il sogno del centauro: a cura di Jean Duflot Rome: Editori Riuniti.

    Stack, Oswald (1969) Pasolini on Pasolini. London, Thames and Hudson/British Film Institute.

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