• 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


    Sunday, March 08, 2015

    Nazarin (1959)

    Luis Buñuel is one of a small group of directors whose work started in the silent era and ran way into the 1970s. As a big fan of another member of that exclusive club - Alfred Hitchcock - it’s tempting to get drawn into comparisons between the two, not least because spiritual issues in general and their Jesuit Catholic educations in particular, were major influences on their work.

    I suspect that the attitudes to both men to questions of faith varied throughout their long careers. Certainly the harsh critique of religion in Buñuel’s La Voie lactée (The Milky Way), where religion is a monstrous edifice built of false foundations, is in stark contrast to Nazarin where Buñuel finds sympathy for his religiously motivated lead, even if he implies that such a lost cause is an indication of the absence of God.

    It’s an unusual premise. Priests in movies tend towards one of two positions depending on the filmmakers’ prior beliefs: good priests whose example and ministry hint at the possibility of a good and gracious God; or bad priests whose sins typify the absence of God and, for the filmmaker at least, the murky motivations of many of those who have gained from abusing their position.

    Here however Buñuel presents us with a priest who distils the very best of all those movie priests but uses his ineffectiveness and naiveté to question the existence of God. In part it’s an inversion of the Job story, whereby despite God’s servant living exactly as he ought to, he ends up downtrodden and cursed, repeatedly causing harm not only to himself, but also those around him. There’s no upbeat ending however and ultimately it’s God, rather than his servant, that ends up in the dock.

    Yet it’s also a subversion of the example of Christ. Father Nazario is the very epitome of someone following in the footsteps of Jesus. He protects and attempts to reform the prostitute Andara; he frequently gives all his money away; he takes upa job only to leave it when he realises his appointment means others might go without; and he continues to preach the gospel to anyone that will listen. He even resists being called upon to miraculously heal a feverish girl, prays anyway, and then denies responsibility when she is healed.

    Yet, that incident aisde, instead of a successful ministry Nazario finds only failure and rejection. Indeed Buñuel even strips him of his chance to be a martyr. He’s imprisoned by the authorities, bound and due to March to court, but then at the last minute separated from the other prisonners and allowed to travel unfettered and accompanied by a guard out of uniform. Whilst Nazario is not exactly free, he is no longer fearing for his life. Indeed this is one of the few Christ-figure films that neither ends with the death of the protagonist, nor even photographs them in a cruciform pose.

    He does however manage to incur the wrath of the political and religious authorities. The church is scandalised by his relationship with the two women who accompany him, Beatriz and Andara. Andara is a former prostitute, Beatriz has psychotic episodes - including one where she imagines a picture of Jesus coming to life and mocking her - but both become devoted to Father Nazario and follow him everywhere..

    However, much to his annoyance, the source of their devotion is not his teaching, despite his frequent chastisement, indeed ultimately Beatriz returns to her abusive lover Pinto. In the final scene she is shown falling asleep on his shoulder as they ride past a bedraggled Father Nazario en route as he walks the long road to face the authorities.

    I say “authorities”, but by this stage the religious authorities have long made up their minds. Even at the start of the film he is considered something of a loose cannon, operating without a parish, By the end they consider him “reckless”, a “rebel spirit” affected by “madness”. Many parts of the film are damning of the church, but none more so that the penultimate scene where one of the bishop’s representatives tells him that “your habits contradict those of priests. Your ways confront the church which you claim to love and obey.”

    What’s interesting about the film is where it finishes, further along the road to judgement Nazrio is given a pineapple by a fruit seller. DIfferent writers have interpreted this in different ways. Some see it as symbolic of the crown of thorns, others as suggestive of a handgrenade and still others as a nod to the fruit of the tree of good and evil from the Garden of Eden. At first Nazrio rejects it, but then he changed his mind and acepts the women’s charity, walking on with a troubled, although rather ambiguous look on his face. Has he realised for the first time that he is a human who needs others as much as they need him? Or is this his realisation of the absence of God.

    Either way, ending at this point reminds me of how the ministry of Jesus must have looked like at this point. Despised and rejected, imprisoned by corrupt political authorities after the religious authorities have washed their hands of him. Rumours of him healing people in the past pale into insignificance the numbers of those who cheered him have dwindled away to just a prostitute and a mad woman. And even then they can’t stay awake at the crucial moment.

    Christianity, of course, centres on the notion that this was not the end of the story. But for a while, at least, things must have seemed as bleak as they do at the end of Nazarin.

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    Wednesday, August 24, 2016

    The Young One (1960)

    I've been watching quite a bit of Luis Buñuel recently and just finished watching The Young One (1960). Without giving too much away a significant part of the plot hangs on the presence of a priest, which is noteworthy for two reasons.

    Firstly because Buñuel is so often seen as anti-clerical, but here, whilst not handling things exactly as we in the 21st century would perhaps hope, the priest is still a somewhat heroic figure, who achieves some good by risking at least his own reputation and perhaps even his life. There are odd and perhaps feeble aspects to him as well, but they serve to make him more human and realistic, rather than despicable. I'm reminded of the way that so many see Buñuel's critique of the priesthood/idealised religion as solely negative but here, this is a primarily positive impact. This rather bolsters my position on Nazarin (1959) which is that Nazarin is a three-dimensional impression of a religious leader - albeit a very flawed one.

    The other pint of interest here is that the actor playing the priest is none other than Claudio Brook who also starred in Exterminating Angel (1962) and Simón del desierto [Simon of the Desert] (1965) for Buñuel and then as Jesus in the Mexican Jesus film Jesús, nuestro Señor (1969). Simón del desierto is next in my next destination for my Buñuel journey and I really must get around to seeing (and reviewing) Jesús, nuestro Señor sometime soon.

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    Wednesday, August 22, 2007

    La Voie Lactée (The Milky Way - 1969)

    One of the things that's interesting about Bible films is the way that controversy often rages around one film, but leaves other, equally controversial, films largely untouched. Compare, for example, the differing responses to Last Temptation of Christ and Jesus of Montreal. Scorsese's film provoked uproar - in France some cinemas were even fire-bombed - yet Arcand's film, released barely a year later, somehow passed below the radar, even though it's view of Jesus is far less orthodox than Last Temptation.

    In a similar way, Buñuel's 1969 film La Voie Lactée (The Milky Way) largely avoided controversy despite the director's catalogue of films criticising Catholicism. The director himself was deeply ambivalent about Christianity. Nine years before he made this film he had delivered his famous quip "I am still, thank God, an atheist", but 8 years later (in 1977) he denied his atheism claiming to be "weary" of his "old aphorism".1. So this film appeared almost exactly half way between those two quotes - and it really shows.

    Whilst the subject matter of the entire film is Catholicism, much of it is to do with how that faith has been worked in the 2000 years since Jesus, and, in particular, how different heresies the church has faced have been handled. But this film is different from Buñuel's other films in that it actually contains scenes from, or from around the Gospels.

    In many respects the film has much in common with the later Monty Python's Life of Brian. Not only are both films the product of well read, if irreverent artists, but they use humour as their primary tool, and incorporate short sections of the gospels into a more extensive filmic collage. Furthermore, fans of the Python films in general will feel instantly at home in Buñuel's surrealism, replete with its jumbled time lines and improbably articulate discussions, and the film's use of a quest to bond together various episodes in the loosest possible manner.

    The film follows the bizarre journey of two particularly impious pilgrims as they journey to Santiago. As their journey unfolds they inhabit the same space as numerous characters from through the ages who are, in some way, related to Catholicism. Some are modern day figures discussing Catholic doctrines. Others are more historical figures related to Catholicism in some way. At times these connections are somewhat obscure such as the appearance of the Marquis de Sade. Sometimes the pilgrims interact with the characters they encounter, at other times they simply happen to be in the same place at the same time.

    Their first two encounters are both based on the bible. As they walk along a road they meet a man who they ask for alms. Learning that the younger of the two travellers has no money, the stranger refuses to give him anything, yet when the older man admits he already has some money, he receives a wad of notes. This strange encounter ends with the man commanding them to "go and find a harlot, and have children by her. Name the first, 'You Are Not My People', and the second, 'No More Mercy'". To the uninitiated this dialogue may seem fairly meaningless, but it is recontextualisation of two passages from the Bible - Jesus's conclusion to the Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:29 & Luke 19:26) and God's instructions to Hosea (Hosea 1).

    As they part ways, the pilgrims observe a smaller figure alongside the stranger (that they had not previously noticed), and a dove flies alongside - completing the Trinity. Somewhat confused, they conclude the stranger favoured the older man because of his beard. This leads to an amusing flashback to the 1st century where Mary persuades Jesus not to shave off his beard.

    Also present in this scene is a young boy who the pilgrims are just about meet. The pilgrims are concerned by the state the boy is in - he has marks in his hands and in his side - but they move on before they realise who he really is.

    There follows a series of brief vignettes as the pilgrims encounter an eloquent priest who turns out to be mad, a group of early gnostic Christians and find only an ambiguous answer to their test of God's existence. The next scene revolves around a number of waiters who are discussing theology, philiosophy and various heretical beliefs. Their discussion is intercut with a scene of the Marquis de Sade and another featuring Jesus. Jesus runs to greet his disciples - they are late for the Wedding at Cana where Jesus tells the Parable of the Shrewd Steward. Tantalisingly the scene ends as soon as Jesus gives the command to fill the water jugs and serve the wine. We are not shown whether or not the miracle actually occurs. I find the start of this segment particularly memorable. There's something fresh and exciting about the way Jesus enters the scene running - even if it is because he is late.

    Back on the road the strange encounters continue: a school speech day with a variety of dogma drenched "poetry" that is so unusual it leads one of the characters to imagine the pope in front of a firing squad; a scene from the Spanish Inquisition; an inhabitant of purgatory; a duel between a Jansenist and a Jesuit; and some reformers who have a vision of the Virgin Mary.

    When they finally arrive in Santiago they are greeted by a whore who takes them into the woods for a "frolic in the grass" and then repeats the command from the strange man at the start of the film. She is the one who is to bear the children named 'You Are Not My People' and 'No More Mercy'.

    This leads to the film's final scene which is again of Jesus and the disciples, who appear in the same woods as the pilgrims, the whore and two blind men. Initially Jesus appears to heal the blind men, but as they stroll off towards Jesus's showdown in Jerusalem the camera focuses on a ditch. Whilst Jesus and his apostles negotiate it with ease, his two newest followers still seem to be relying on their sticks to help them to cross the gap. That said, although that's the most obvious reading it's not quite as clear cut as many would have you believe. For a start we see only the character's feet - their actual identity is assumed rather than a certainty. Furthermore, one of the two blind men recites the line about seeing "men as trees walking" which combined with Jesus's use of saliva to heal the men, indicates that it is Mark 8:25-28 which is being portrayed. Crucially, the men in the text are not properly healed until Jesus lays his hands on them a second time, and as the film ends abruptly at this point, the possibility remains that the completion of this miracle lies beyond the end of the film.

    So whilst there's a scepticism about Christianity and its founder in the film this is not an out and out attack on the man from Nazareth. Indeed Buñuel could easily have included even more difficult passages from the scriptures such as the incident with the Syrophoenician Woman in Mark 7:25-30. It's unclear whether the film's ambiguity in this respect is a reflection of Buñuel's own uncertainty or his concern over how a more negative portrayal would be received by either the censor or the general populace. Indeed the film is far more damning regarding it's more specifically Catholic concerns than about Jesus himself.

    Whilst this is, then, not a particularly uplifting film, it does provide fresh insights into several biblical texts by placing them in new contexts. And whilst it's certainly sceptical about Christianity, the fact that it's been written by people who know their Catholicism inside out, and are not afraid to make a film that is inaccessible to those do not, means the film at least deserves some respect even if ultimately we disagree with its, somewhat tenuous, conclusions.


    Those interested in this film might also like to read the write-ups by Doug Cummings, and Alan Dale. You can also read the script and view a huge number of images at american-buddha.com

    1 - Cited in Wikipedia article on Luis Buñuel.

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    Sunday, April 22, 2018

    Jesús, Nuestro Señor (1971)

    Probably an entire book could be written about Jesus films from Mexico. The country's Catholic roots and relative poverty have meant their gospel adaptations have held a distinctly different flavour from the excess and Protestantism of their North American counterparts. Jesús de Nazareth (1942)María Magdalena (1946),  El Mártir del Calvario (1952) and El Processo de Cristo (1965) all have their distinctions, but it's perhaps the 1971 film Jesús, Nuestro Señor (Jesus Our Lord) that is of most interest today.

    A good deal of that is due to the choice of Claudio Brook as Jesus. Brook made his name in a string of films withLuis Buñuel. He had what many consider the title role in The Exterminating Angel (1962) and the lead role as something of a Christ figure in Simon del Deserto (Simon of the Desert,1965). Four years later, Buñuel had left Mexico, and Brook joined him in Europe to work on La Voie Lactée (The Milky Way), to many the director's most strongly anti-religious work. Whilst that time the Jesus role went to Bernard Verley, Brook played a bishop.

    Whilst Jesús, Nuestro Señor is a far more reverential work than Simon and La Voie Lactée (it still contains a couple of sequences which, if not quite as surreal as Buñuel's work, certainly seems unusual compared to most English language Jesus films.

    Two moments catch the eye in particular. When John the Baptist is executed, his head is brought on and laid before Herod with it's eyes open. Herod tries to evade it's stare. Eventually he even gets off his throne to walk out of the head's direct gaze, only to find it rotates slightly in order to follow him pacing increasingly anxiously back and forth.

    The other is one of those parts of the Bible that is usually considered a bit too much like something from a horror movie to be included in most Jesus films. According to Matthew 27:52-53, at the moment of Jesus' death, the tombs were opened and the saints came back to life. The metaphor sits rather awkwardly  alongside an earthquake and the tearing of the temple curtain as if wanting to drop a hint about the resurrection without giving it away. Here Jesus has already raised Lazarus, Jairus' daughter and the Widow of Nain's son, and the newly raised bodies arise in similar fashion, and start walking about, still bound in their grave-clothes.

    But the differences between Nuestro Señor and Hollywood offerings from the same period go far deeper than just these odd moments. There's clearly a gulf in budgets, which leads to the occasional ill-fitting beard and significantly smaller crowd scenes. This has a particular difference in the trial scene in Pilate's house. Their smaller numbers, and the way they are vociferously lead by the priests, belie any idea that this crowd is in someway representative of the Jewish nation as a whole. The space is crowded, but it's really only a handful of people who are in league with the establishment. Later the priests cruelly laugh at Jesus even after he's been flogged. Some will find that more troubling; others will see such a reaction to the suffering of one of their countryman as further evidence of their detachment from their people.

    There's also some interesting use of the camera, including the type of shots that mainstream Hollywood might have considered itself above. Occasionally the films zooms into a scene and then out again before focusing elsewhere. The shots draw attention to themselves, not least because they zoom in quickly, and sometimes unevenly, resisting moving at a dignified pace. There are also shots from low angles (see above), emphasising Jesus' power and various interesting high shots, including the "God shot" that captures that begins the dance of the seven veils.

    Comparing and contrasting the film's visuals and colour palette with its American rivals is also an interesting exercise. There are marked differences from the brightly coloured clothing the characters wear, through to the school play style costume an angel wears in for a shot of the nativity. Yet at the same time there are visual similarities such as the contrast of deep blue skies and Jesus' bright red robes, so reminiscent of King of Kings (1961). The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) began focusing on an invented fresco of Max von Sydow as Jesus.

    In contrast, Nuestro Señor starts with a series of famous paintings based on the life of Jesus, such as Filippo Lippi's "Adoration Of The Child" and El Greco's "Disrobing of Christ". Comparing the DVD and YouTube versions of these images to the originals, it's immediately obvious that the colours are now muted down to a sepia hue. It's unclear, though, to what the extent this is due to the quality of the print and the extent to which it's a choice by the filmmakers to make contrasting images more visually similar. In any case the bright, and by modern standards gaudy, colours that are prominent throughout the rest of the film, also recall various High Renaissance era paintings by Raphael and Michelangelo.

    The differences between this film and the classic Hollywood style also extend to its sound. The film's main theme, whilst still essentially orchestral, seems to lean more heavily on brass instruments, but adds in a number of less familiar instruments. We also hear the voice of Jesus inside the heads of those accusing the woman caught in adultery. This is an interesting development allowing the audience to experience different perspectives on Jesus in a short space of time. The use of these different perspectives would find a fuller experience a couple of years later with Jesus Christ, Superstar (1973). The film's aesthetics, then, are not wrong, or inferior, though they are limited by budget: they are just different from the more stately approach of the classic Hollywood epic. It makes for an interesting contrast.

    It's notable, too, the prominence the film gives to woman. In particular Mary, whom Jesus has a lengthy conversation with early on, practically the film's only invented scene. But also a wealthy looking Mary Magdalene; Herodias and her daughter; the widow of Nain; the woman caught in adultery; Pontius Pilate's wife Jairus' daughter; and Mary and Martha are given significant screen time. Because the film pieces together a series of scenes from the gospels, with relatively little embellishment, in a manner reminiscent of early silent Jesus films. The selection of scenes, then, speaks volumes, and it's notable that scenes featuring women, and those raised from the dead are particularly prominent.

    Brook carried on working until his death in 1995, mainly featuring in Mexican productions, though a role in Licence to Kill (1989) was a notable exception. His work on Cronos (1993) with Guillermo del Toro, means he is probably the only actor to have starred in films by both of Mexican cinema's leading lights. For his part, the director of Nuestro Señor's, Miguel Zacarías, went on to release a further two films based on the Gospels:  Jesús, el niño Dios (Jesus the Child of God), was released in the run up to Christmas that same year with its sequel Jesús, María y José (Jesus, Mary and Joseph, 1972) arriving in cinemas just a few months later.

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    Monday, July 23, 2007

    Criterion Release Buñuel's The Milky Way (La Voie Lactée)

    Luis Buñuel's controversial religious film The Milky Way (La Voie Lactée) is finally coming to DVD in it's own right, and the good news for fans is that it will be given the Criterion Collecction treatment. Previously the film has only been available to view as part of the Luis Buñuel Box Set. DVD Beaver a good selection of screen grabs from that release.

    The Criterion Collection DVDs tend to be a bit special and this film is no exception not only featuring a new, restored high-definition digital transfer, and an improved subtitle translation, but a host of extras including an introduction by screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, a video interview with film scholar Ian Christie, the documentary Luis Bunuel: Atheist Thanks to God the original theatrical trailer and a booklet of essays.

    I'm due to see the film for the first time before the DVD release on the 21st August, so I'll reserve my comments until then. Meanwhile there's a brief synopsis for this film which was also discussed both in Campbell and Pitts' "The Bible on Film" and Kinnard and Davis's "Divine Images".
    The Milky Way (La voie lactee) daringly deconstructs contemporary and traditional views on Catholicism with ribald, rambunctious surreality. Two French beggars, present-day pilgrims en route to Spain's holy city of Santiago de Compostela, serve as Bunuel's narrators for an anticlerical history of heresy, told with absurdity and filled with images that rank among Bunuel's most memorable (stigmatic children, crucified nuns) and hilarious (Jesus considering a good shave). A diabolically entertaining look at the mysteries of fanaticism, The Milky Way remains a hotly debated work from cinema's greatest skeptic.
    One piece of Jesus Film trivia associated with this film is that Claudio Brook (who plays the bishop in The Milky Way), also played Jesus in the Mexican Jesus Film Jesús, Nuestro Señor which was released at about the same time (and which I'm also due to release shortly.

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    Saturday, June 27, 2020

    The Brand New Testament (2015)

    "God exists. He lives in Brussels. He's a bastard. Horrid to his wife and daughter. We've heard a lot about his son, but little about his daughter." 
    So begins Jaco Van Dormael's The Brand New Testament (2016) an off-beat Belgian comedy that sets the Almighty on a collision course with his only...daughter. Deciding she has had enough of the way her father runs the universe, and egged on by her brother 'JC' (who appears only as a living statue), Ea begins a to try and counteract his tyranny. Firstly she texts everyone the date of their deaths. Then, having managed to escape from the Brussels flat where they all live she asks a gentleman of the street to help her add six new disciples to JC's original twelve, because of her mother's love of baseball and it's teams of eighteen.

    The majority of the film, then, features the testimony of each of these disciples as they talk about their lives  - a brand new testament. There's an unmarried data manager; a beautiful twenty-something with a false arm; a gunman with an obsession with death; a lonely sex-addict; a teenage boy who wants to be a girl; and a lonely housewife played by Catherine Deneuve. Given she is by far the biggest star associated with the film Deneuve's casting is particularly interesting. We're told her character has an incredible depth of feeling in her heart, but she plays the icy blond just as she so often has before. Van Dormael shoots her in pale grey against white backgrounds. Whilst she is perhaps best remembered for her role as a fantasising housewife-turned-prostitute in Buñuel's Belle du Jour (1967), here she hires a young male prostitute, before ultimately settling down with a Gorilla. Buñuel would have loved that, I suspect.

    Other characters also fall in love. God's daughter may not have inherited her father's temperament, but she is certainly capable of working in mysterious ways. The sex addict is miraculously reunited with his childhood crush; the data manager falls for a woman living in the Arctic Circle; the trans teen forms a deep bond with Ea herself. Most strikingly of all, the gunman realises his obsession is not death, but fate. The unfailingly accuracy of Ea's texts inspires him to shoot randomly, knowing he can chalk any resulting deaths down to fate, rather than personal responsibility. When his first shot hits the twenty-something's prosthetic arm the two end up falling hopelessly in love.

    Indeed it's the question of fate that's the main theme here, rather than morality. As the opening narration suggests God does not come out of things very well - a petty, vindictive and abusive bureaucrat who fails to find redemption. But while he and his misanthropic rules provide a few smirks, that side of the story always feels a little like a comedy sketch given too much latitude. Whilst the film has so much empathy for its characters from the margins of society (typified by Van Dormael's characteristic concern for those with disabilities), it has seemingly no compassion for the lonely self-hating deity at it's heart. Van Dormael's God is a "slob like one of us" but without the relatability inherent in Joan Osborne's song.

    Visually Van Dormael's work is perhaps a little less controversial than his theology it also has its idiosyncrasies. It has the look of films like Amélie (2001) though Sight and Sound's Leigh Singer claims Van Dormael did such "whimsical fable"first. The darker moments and accompanying cinematography are also reminiscent of Delicatessen (1991). There's a focus on Christian art that is not only present though the many religious paintings which appear during the film, but also in the frequent use of the kind of tenebristic lighting most of us associate with Caravaggio. Yet this contrasts with other brighter, greyer or geometrically precise scenes elsewhere. Van Dormael contrasts God's oppressively dark and gloomy flat with the liberating breeze and warm light of the outdoors. Similarly the use of religious music throughout adds to this mishmash of the sacred and profane, not least in the song-avatars that Ea discerns for each of her disciples. 

    There are also numerous little quirky visual touches to the film which add to its humour as well as minor, unrelated story lines to keep things ticking over. Realising he will not die for many years a vlogger starts throwing himself from ever higher platforms for the thrill and media attention. Moments such as these not only offset the blackness of the film's darker moments but also conceal further questions about fate and morality. The first time the vlogger's jumps his fall is broken by one less unfortunate than himself, yet he carries on, even as he accumulates several serious injuries. It's no coincidence that the role that Van Dormael gives to himself is as "l'automobiliste qui n'a plus que 0 seconde à vivre" (the motorist who has only 0 seconds to live) who is distracted while driving by the very text message announcing his death.

    Ultimately though the characters find their personal 'salvation' through love and self determination. The film leans heavily into the idea of the Gospels as accounts about personal connection, though there is also an emphasis on the importance of a faith community, growing together.  

    However, sadly the film ducks the more profound questions about fate and determinism and aside from the difference Ea makes to the lives of her chosen six, her work on Earth is arguably not much greater than her father's. He meddles by inventing irksome rules about bread always falling jam side down, or about the other queue always moving fastest; she tweaks the lives of only a handful of followers, to bring them happiness. She's 10 of course, but the film suggests she is done meddling with the world, and that we will be better without her or her father's interference. 

    Perhaps the difference is that Ea seems like one of us. Whereas her father exists in the dark, tucked a way in a huge room with wall to wall filing cabinet, she lives like one of us. Her message, perhaps, is that we can all have a small impact on the lives around us. As endings go, it's nice enough and the time spent getting there was entertaining enough with a few moments of interest. Somehow, however, I had just hoped for a little bit more. 
    The Brand New Testament (Le Tout Nouveau Testament) is available to stream via the Channel 4 website (in the UK at least) until the 16th July. 


    Wednesday, August 07, 2019

    Accent Alt Codes for Film Critics

    As someone who is often writing about non-English language films, I am forever trying to find the shortest possible alt-codes for various accents from foreign languages. Various sites are helpful, but none seems to give me everything I want, and frequently they provide a huge list when only a handful are required. So here's a quick guide, which you can either bookmark to remind yourself (as I will), or learn (as I seem incapable of doing) or copy and paste the letters from below. Even so I've given examples of film names /words that use them. Hope it helps.

    Alt+133 - à - as in Cinecittà
    Alt+160 - á - as in Adán y Eva
    Alt+135 - ç - as in François Truffaut
    Alt+130 - é - as in Pathé
    Alt+138 - è - as in Danièle Huillet or mise-en-scène
    Alt+164 - ñ - as in Buñuel
    Alt+148 - ö - as in Schönberg*
    Alt+151 - ù - as in Gesù

    In Word and PowerPoint only
    Alt+0322 - ł - as in Paweł Pawlikowski
    Alt+0347 - ś - as in Kieślowski

    *N.B. However, according to Ute Holl he preferred to use the anglicised version "Schoenberg".


    However, there is an alternative method for use in Microsoft products:

    Ctrl+' then letter = acute [apostrophe] 
    Ctrl+` then letter = grave [(top left key also marked ¬)
    Ctrl+Shift+6 then the letter = circumflex 
    Ctlr+, then letter = cedila
    Ctrl+Shift+; then letter = umlaut
    Ctrl+Shift+~ then n = ñ

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Call for Entries for the "Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception"

    I've contributed a number of short articles for some of the early volumes of the "Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception", and one of its editors, S. Brent Plate, has asked me to draw attention to the following call for entries:
    Walter de Gruyter Publishing House in Berlin, having recently finished the Theologische Realenzyklopädie (TRE), is now publishing an equally ambitious research tool – an Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception (EBR) in 30 volumes. Volumes 1 and 2 were published in 2009, and volumes 3-6 are currently in production for 2010 publication.

    EBR will be published in English and will be the first comprehensive biblical research tool to incorporate fully the history of interpretation and reception into an encyclopedic treatment of the Bible. This project will shape future scholarship on the Bible and its cultural and historical reception. EBR will, on the one hand, trace in comprehensive detail the impact of historical persons, places, topics, etc. on the Bible, and, on the other hand, the reception of the Bible, i.e. the reception of biblical books, persons, places, flora and fauna, pericopes, topics, motifs etc. in the history of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, other world religions, literature, visual arts, music, theater and film.

    There are ongoing opportunities for publishing shorter (~200 words), longer (~2000 words), and in-between, entries on topics related to religion and film. 2010 begins the entries beginning with the letter "D".

    To give example of the range of topics covered, previous entries on film include: Abraham, Angels, Atheism, Blasphemy, Buñuel, Cain, Celibacy, Chaos, Desert.

    There are many more entries, but this gives a sense of the range of interests: specific directors, specific films, general biblical topics, and biblical characters and motifs.

    For further information, questions, and for examples of already published entries, please contact Brent Plate.

    For info on the EBR, see: bible-encyclopedia.com

    Friday, September 29, 2017

    mother! (2017)

    Hard quite to know what should be classified as a spoiler for this film. I've tried not to give too much away, but it's hard to discuss it without giving something away somewhere.

    A phrase that's been repeated again and again as critics seek to make sense of Darren Aronofsky's mother! (2017) is for the need for more time to process things. It's a deeply unsettling film where the intense imagery is unceasing. Those are words that describe the emotional experience of watching it as opposed to a philosophical assessment based on it's use of biblical, and indeed numerous other, archetypes, because it's a film that perhaps above all else is designed to make its audience feel. Almost every shot is taken with in the confines of the tumbledown house that Jennifer Lawrence's titular 'mother' and her partner are seeking to repair. Of it's two hour running time, 66 minutes of it are on on Lawrence's face (Kermode and Mayo, 2017) and almost all of the remaining shots in the film are taken from her point of view. It's a performance that's gained wide praise from critics. Aronofsky himself has said that despite having "watched it hundreds of times, I'm always seeing little things that she's doing that I'm just like wow! I've never seen that before" (Kermode and Mayo, 2017). There's an intensity to the film, which combined with the whirling camera and the claustrophobic atmosphere make for extremely uncomfortable viewing.

    What's interesting about mother! (small 'm', absolutely significant) is the way that on the one hand it presents the kind of film that feels unique and original (it's failure to conform to any one particular genre is doubtless part of the reason why many have dismissed it), whilst simultaneously being packed full of references and tributes to both other films and other stories. The archetypal references abound with resonances of God, Mother Earth, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Mary, "The Odyssey"'s Penelope and humanity itself rubbing shoulders with a more gnostic and eastern style philosophy.

    At the same time it evokes such diverse films as The Amityville Horror, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rosemary's Baby, zombie movies and the work of Lars von Trier. Many have cited Buñuel's Exterminating Angel, but I see plenty of Viridana in it as well.

    Yet at the same time as the cosmic elements of allegory and parable, it's also a story about two individuals, and our differing attitudes to our private spaces. It may be an Englishman's home that is supposed to be his castle, but this attitude clearly crosses gender and continental divides.

    OK real spoilers from here on 
    Having watched this film in close proximity to a further viewing of Noah the portrayal of the Javier Bardem's character, - Him, a God/creator type character - is clearly at the forefront of my mind. Here the character is a selfish narcissist. Him is so wrapped up in garnering praise for himself he is unable to see the damage it is inflicting on what we ultimately discover is his greatest creation. Strangers appear at his door out of nowhere. Are they, too his creations, created to stroke his ego. Is Aronofsky suggesting that God is at least partly culpable for the damage that is being inflicted on our planet? Certainly there's criticism of those that turn up and take from Mother's paradise without considering how their actions are destroying it. End spoilers

    Ultimately, such readings are only those that occur to me. What is great about Aronofsky bizarre and ambiguous work is that it will speak differently to different people. The downside is that so many are horrified by it they don't like what they see.


    Monday, November 23, 2015

    The Bible in Motion: A Handbook of the Bible and Its Reception in Film

    Editor: Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch
    Publisher: Walter de Gruyter
    Date: February 15, 2016
    Language: English
    Length: 900 pages*
    Price (Hardback/eBook): £180/$335
    ISBN: 978-1614515616

    It gives me great pleasure to announce the release of this two-volume work on the Bible in Film. A large part of the pleasure comes from the knowledge that two of the chapters in it will be mine, but also it looks set to be the the most comprehensive work on the subject to date with work from most of the leading scholars in this area. First here's the official blurb from the publisher's website:
    This volume contains a comprehensive collection of original studies by well-known scholars focusing on the Bible’s wide-ranging reception in world cinema. Part I examines the rich cinematic afterlives of selected characters from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. Part II considers issues of biblical reception across a wide array of film genres, ranging from noir to anime. Part III features directors, from Lee Chang-dong to the Coen brothers, whose body of work reveals an enduring fascination with biblical texts and motifs. Part IV offers topical essays on cinema’s treatment of selected biblical themes (e.g., redemption, lament, apocalyptic), particular interpretive lenses (e.g., feminist interpretation, queer theory), and windows into biblical reception in a variety of world cinemas (e.g., Indian, Israeli, and Third Cinema). This handbook is intended for scholars of the Bible, religion, and film as well as for a wider general audience
    Based on the proofing copy I have seen it seems that his information is a little out of date. For a start it's now split into two volumes, with six parts in total. *Secondly, whereas the data in circulation at the moment suggests that it will be 710 pages, I suspect the final manuscript will be pushing 900. I've excerpted the contents pages below

    I have one chapter in each volume. In the first I have an essay on the depiction of (King) David in film a character who has, hitherto, been rather overlooked by Bible film scholars. But I'm particularly proud of my contribution to the second part, a chapter on Roberto Rossellini. Rossellini is such a great, influential, but - these days - under-appreciated film-maker that it feels like a real honour to write about him. I've been learning some Italian, as much spurred on by my appreciation of his films, and I'm quite looking forward to being able to say I've been published on Rossellini.

    It's also a tremendous honour to be published alongside so many of the writers whose work I have appreciated over the last 15 or so years as well as getting the chance to encounter some new (to me) names as well.

    At 710-900 pages and £180/$335 a copy it's hardly for the casual reader (Amazon even gives it's weight as 1.7lbs!) and I imagine most copies will end up in academic libraries. Still I imagine if it sells well there may be a paperback release at some stage at a substantially lower cost. Certainly if you do get a chance to get hold of a copy I would strongly recommend it.

    VOLUME 1
    Part I: Biblical Characters and Stories (Hebrew Bible)

    1. In the Beginning: Adam and Eve in Film
    - Theresa Sanders
    2. Noah and the Flood: A Cinematic Deluge
    - Anton Karl Kozlovic
    3. It’s all in the Family: The Patriarchs of Genesis in Film
    - Peter T. Chattaway
    4. The Cinematic Moses
    - Jennifer L. Koosed
    5. Samson and Delilah in Film
    - J. Cheryl Exum
    6. There Might be Giants: King David on the Big (and Small) Screen
    - Matthew Page
    7. Esther in Film
    - Carl S. Ehrlich

    Part II: Film Genres and Film Media
    8. Scripture on Silent Film
    - David J. Shepherd
    9. Film Noir and the Bible
    - Robert Ellis
    10. The Bible Epic
    - Adele Reinhartz
    11. Western Text(s): The Bible and the Movies of the Wild, Wild West
    - Robert Paul Seesengood
    12. Mysteries of the Bible (Documentary) Revealed: The Bible in Popular Non-Fiction and Documentary Film
    - Robert Paul Seesengood
    13. From Skepticism to Piety: The Bible and Horror Films
    - Mary Ann Beavis
    14. “Moses’ DVD Collection”: The Bible and Science Fiction Film
    - Frauke Uhlenbruch
    15. The Word Made Gag: Biblical Reception in Film Comedy
    - Terry Lindvall and Chris Lindvall
    16. Drawing (on) the Text: Biblical Reception in Animated Films
    - R. Christopher Heard
    17. Anime and the Bible
    - Fumi Ogura and N. Frances Hioki

    Part III: Biblical Themes and Genres
    18. God at the Movies
    - Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch
    19. Satan in Cinema
    - Peter Malone
    20. Creation and Origins in Film
    - Gaye Williams Ortiz
    21. The Book of Job in the Movies: On Cinema‘s Exploration of Theodicy and the Hiddenness of God
    - Reinhold Zwick
    22. Lament in Film and Film as Lament
    - Matthew S. Rindge
    23. What Lies beyond? Biblical Images of Death and Afterlife in Film
    - Sandie Gravett
    24. This is the End: Apocalyptic Moments in Cinema
    - Tina Pippin

    VOLUME 2
    Part I: Biblical Characters and Stories (New Testament)

    1. Jesus and the Gospels at the Movies
    - W. Barnes Tatum
    2. Women in the Cinematic Gospels
    - Catherine O’Brien
    3. Judas as Portrayed in Film
    - Carol A. Hebron
    4. Jews and Judaism in Bible Films
    - Clayton N. Jefford
    5. Paul and the Early Church in Film
    - Richard Walsh
    6. Mythic Relevance of Revelation in Film
    - Meghan Alexander Beddingfield

    Part II: Cinemas and Auteurs
    7. David Wark Griffith: Filming the Bible as the U.S. Story
    - Richard Walsh
    8. Alice Guy Blaché and Gene Gauntier: Bringing New Perspectives to Film
    - Carol A. Hebron
    9. Oscar Micheaux’s Within our Gates: Emergent History and a Gospel of Middle-Class Liberation
    - Nathan Jumper
    10. Cecil B. Demille: Hollywood’s Lay Preacher
    - Anton Karl Kozlovic
    11. Reframing Jesus: Dreyer’s Lifelong Passion
    - Caroline Vander Stichele
    12. Luis Buñuel: Atheist by the Grace of God
    - J. Sage Elwell
    13. Robert Bresson: Biblical Resonance from a Christian Atheist
    - Sara Anson Vaux
    14. Roberto Rossellini: From Spiritual Searcher to History’s Documentarian
    - Matthew Page
    15. Federico Fellini: From Catholicism to the Collective Unconscious
    - Marie-Therese Maeder
    16. John Huston: The Atheistic Noah
    - Gaye Williams Ortiz
    17. Stanley Kubrick: Midrashic Movie Maker
    - Nathan Abrams
    18. In the Wake of the Bible: Krzysztof Kieślowski and the Residual Divine in Contemporary Life
    - Joseph G. Kickasola
    19. Peter Weir: Man of Mystery, Mysticism, and the Mundane
    - Anton Karl Kozlovic
    20. Cheick Oumar Sissoko: West African Activist and Storyteller
    - Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch
    21. Lee Chang-Dong: Exploring the Hidden Christ
    - Fumi Ogura and N. Frances Hioki
    22. Mark Dornford-May: Transposing the Classic
    - Samuel D. Giere
    23. Serious Men: Scripture in the Coen Brothers Films
    - J. R. Daniel Kirk
    24. Liberative Visions: BiblicaL Reception in Third Cinema
    - Antonio D. Sison
    25. The Reception of Biblical Films in India: Observations and a Case Study
    - Dwight H. Friesen
    26. “A Ram Butts his Broad Horns again and again against the Wall of the House”: The Binding Myth in Israeli Film
    - Anat Y. Zanger

    Part III: Voices from the Margins
    27. Judaism and Antisemitism in Bible Movies
    - Adele Reinhartz
    28. Ethnicity and Biblical Reception in Eve and the Fire Horse
    - Stephenson Humphries-Brooks
    29. A Slave Narrative for the “Post-Racial” Obama Age
    - Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch
    30. The Temptation of Noah: The Debate about Patriarchal Violence in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah
    - Erin Runions
    31. Gay Male Villains in Biblical Epic Films
    - Richard A. Lindsay
    32. Imperialism in New Testament Films
    - Jeremy Punt

    *This is based on the number of pages in the proofing copies I have seen. Final version may differ significantly.

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    Sunday, July 01, 2018

    Why the Film Community Needs to Rethink its Stance on the Biblical Film

    I think it's time film lovers revisited the Bible film.

    I understand their a bad reputation: too often they have suffered from being low-grade propaganda, artistically or morally deficient, or just plain dull. Furthermore, it's been compounded by the way that biblical films have come to be seen as synonymous with biblical epics. It's not hard to see how, as the dominant genre of 50s has fallen from grace, many have thrown the often pompous, overblown, baby out with the subtler, more nuanced, bathwater. But whilst epics form a significant part of the picture, it's important to realise that portrayals of the Bible on film are, in fact, far more wide ranging than the biblical epic.

    Perhaps the most persuasive argument for fans and students of film to take biblical adaptations more seriously is simply to look at the list of directors who have made one. So yes, of course, there's DeMille but there are also such directors as Roberto Rossellini, Jean Luc Godard, John Huston, Alice Guy, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jean Marie Straub/ Danielle Huillet, Luis Buñuel, The Coen Brothers, Ermanno OlmiMartin ScorsesePhilippe Garrel and Carl Dreyer. Add to that the numerous biblical films in which Orson Welles was involved, and an ultimately unrealised work on Genesis by Robert Bresson and that's quite a list.

    For a large part these directors and the team of filmmakers they represent worked outside the boundaries of the biblical epic. The subject was one for them to adopt, adapt, interpret, uphold or rally against. They are women and men of various approaches to faith, from the passionately devout, through to troubled agnostics and provocatively atheistic and they brought their artistic sensibilities with them.

    So looking at the films I have covered on this site over the years, in addition to the epics, there are also musicals (Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973), comedies (Monty Python's Life of Brian, 1979), neo-realism (Il vangelo secondo Matteo, 1964), horror (Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter, 2001), surrealism (La Voie Lactée, 1969), materialism (Moses und Aron, 1973) and the avant garde (Lot in Sodom, 1933).

    Furthermore these films also touch on other more wide ranging 'movements' in cinema from silent film (of which I've discussed more than thirty here over the years), queer cinema (Salomé 1922) and pioneering animation (The Miracle Maker, 2000); as well as numerous films such as The Green Pastures (1936) and Golem, l'esprit de l'exil (1992) which quite simply defy classification.

    I should point out that I don't wish to dismiss the biblical epic. You can't run a site like this and not admire DeMille in full flow. I guess I'm just saying that if epics are not your aesthetic preference, then you're in good company because some of the cinema's greatest ever artists have rejected those same aesthetics. So let's celebrate their work, rather than dismiss it for being something it isn't.

    Tuesday, December 31, 2019

    Where to See the 100 Bible Films

    If you're reading this you've probably found the URL from my book "100 Bible Films", if so, thanks for reading!

    While it was a point of the book to focus on films that still exist in some form some are difficult to track down, there are even one or two in archives which I'm hoping to do something about in the future. For now though this is where you can see the films. If you find any where the links have gone dead, or you know a better /alternate source, please let me know.

    If you've found this some other way, you can view a sample or buy my book here.

    1. La vie et la passion de Jésus-Christ (1898)
    (Louis Lumière, Georges Hatot, IMDb)
    Freely available via the US Library of Congress..
    Alt text.

    2. Martyrs Chrétiens (1905)
    (Lucien Nonguet, IMDb)
    One of the films featured on the BFI's "Fairy Tales: Early Colour Stencil films from Pathé" DVD.

    3. La vie du Christ (1906)
    (Alice Guy, IMDb)
    Available free on YouTube.
    Also on DVD.

    4. Vie et Passion de N.S Jésus-Christ (1907)
    (Ferdinand Zecca, IMDb)
    Available free on YouTube.
    Also on DVD.

    5. Jephtah's Daughter: A Biblical Tragedy (1909)
    (Stuart Blackton, IMDb)
    Not currently available, but email me if interested as a kickstarter campaign may be starting in the future

    6. L'exode (1910)
    (Louis Feuillade, IMDb)
    Not currently available, but email me if interested as a kickstarter campaign may be starting in the future

    7. Jaël et Sisera (1911)
    (Henri Andréani, IMDb)
    Can be viewed in the BFI's Reuben library.
    A kickstarter campaign may be starting in the future.

    8. From the Manger to the Cross; or, Jesus of Nazareth (1912)
    (Sidney Olcott, IMDb)
    Available free on YouTube.
    Also on DVD.

    9. Judith of Bethulia (1914)
    (D.W. Griffith, IMDb)
    Available free on YouTube.
    Alternate version on YouTube.

    10. Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916)
    (D.W. Griffith, IMDb)
    Available free on YouTube.
    Also on DVD.

    11. Blade af Satans bog (1920)
    (Carl Theodor Dreyer, IMDb)
    Also at Daily Motion.

    12. La Sacra Bibbia (1920)
    (Pier Antonio Gariazzo, Armando Vey, IMDb)

    13. Der Galiläer (1921)
    (Dimitri Buchowetzki, IMDb)
    Available free via Internet Archive.

    14. Salomé (1922)
    (Charles Bryant, Alla Nazimova, IMDb)
    Available free on YouTube

    15. Sodom und Gomorrha (1922)
    (Michael Curtiz, IMDb)
    Available free on YouTube
    Also on DVD.

    16. The Ten Commandments (1923)
    (Cecil B. DeMille, IMDb)
    Available free on YouTube
    Also on DVD.

    17. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
    (Charles Brabin, Christy Cabanne, Rex Ingram, Fred Niblo, J.J. Cohn, IMDb)
    Included in this DVD box set.
    Can stream via Amazon & Apple.

    18. The King of Kings (1927)
    (Cecil B. DeMille, IMDb)
    Lobster Bluray/DVD
    Also on YouTube.

    19. Noah's Ark (1928)
    (Darryl F. Zanuck, Michael Curtiz, IMDb)
    US DVD

    20. Lot in Sodom (1933)
    (Melville Webber, James Sibley Watson, IMDb)
    Available free on YouTube

    21. Golgotha (1935)
    (Julien Duvivier, IMDb)
    Available free via Internet Archive.

    22. The Last Days of Pompeii (1935)
    (Ernest B. Schoedsack, Merian C. Cooper, IMDb)

    23. The Green Pastures (1936)
    (Marc Connelly, William Keighley, IMDb)
    Also at Vimeo.

    24. Jesús de Nazareth (1942)
    (José Díaz Morales, IMDb)
    Available free on YouTube.

    25. Samson and Delilah (1949)
    (Cecil B. DeMille, IMDb)

    26. David and Bathsheba (1951)
    (Henry King, IMDb)

    27. Quo Vadis (1951)
    (Mervyn LeRoy, Anthony Mann, IMDb)

    28. The Robe (1953)
    (Henry Koster, IMDb)
    Rent on YouTube.

    29. Sins of Jezebel (1953)
    (Reginald Le Borg, IMDb)

    30. The Prodigal (1955)
    (Richard Thorpe, IMDb)

    31. The Ten Commandments (1956)
    (Cecil B. DeMille, IMDb)

    32. The Star of Bethlehem (1956)
    (Lotte Reiniger, Vivian Milroy, Jan Sadlo, IMDb)
    Extra on BFI "Adventures of Prince Achmed" Dvd
    Also on Gospel Films Archive DVD.

    33. Celui qui doit mourir (1957)
    (Jules Dassin, IMDb)
    Available on YouTube (in French with Eng subtitles).

    34. Solomon and Sheba (1959)
    (King Vidor, IMDb)

    35. Ben-Hur (1959)
    (William Wyler, IMDb)
    Rent on YouTube.

    36. Esther and the King (1960)
    (Raoul Walsh, Mario Bava, IMDb)

    37. The Story of Ruth (1960)
    (Henry Koster, IMDb)

    38. Barabbas (1961)
    (Richard Fleischer, IMDb)
    Available on YouTube.

    39. King of Kings (1961)
    (Nicholas Ray, IMDb)
    Rent on YouTube.

    40. Il vecchio testamento (1962)
    (Gianfranco Parolini, IMDb)
    DVD (German one is best)
    Various versions free on YouTube (here best visuals but Italian audio).

    41. Il vangelo secondo Matteo (1964)
    (Pier Paolo Pasolini, IMDb)
    Also free on YouTube - chose subtitled & black & white.

    42. The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
    (George Stevens, David Lean, Jean Negulesco, IMDb)
    Free on Amazon Prime or rent on YouTube.

    43. I grandi condottieri (1965)
    (Marcello Baldi, Francisco Pérez-Dolz, IMDb)

    44. The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966)
    (John Huston, IMDb)

    45. Les Actes des apotres [Atti degli apostoli] (1969)
    (Roberto Rossellini, IMDb)
    Available on YouTube

    46. La voie lactée (1969)
    (Luis Buñuel, IMDb)

    47. Son of Man (1969)
    (Gareth Davies, IMDb)
    Not currently available

    48. Jesús, nuestro Señor (1971)
    (Miguel Zacarías, IMDb)
    US DVD

    49. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
    (Norman Jewison, IMDb)
    Free on Amazon Prime.

    50. Godspell: A Musical Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew (1973)
    (David Greene, IMDb)

    51. Moses und Aron (1975)
    (Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub, IMDb)

    52. Il messia (1975)
    (Roberto Rossellini, IMDb)
    On YouTube (Italian w Eng subs despite video title).

    53. The Passover Plot (1976)
    (Michael Campus, IMDb)
    Currently on YouTube.

    54. Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
    (Franco Zeffirelli, IMDb)

    55. Karunamayudu (1978)
    (A. Bhimsingh, Christopher Coelho, IMDb)
    Free on YouTube.

    56. Jesus (1979)
    (Peter Sykes, John Krish, IMDb)

    57. Life of Brian (1979)
    (Terry Jones, IMDb)
    Free on YouTube.

    58. Camminacammina (1983)
    (Ermanno Olmi, IMDb)

    59. Je vous salue, Marie (1985)
    (Jean-Luc Godard, IMDb)

    60. King David (1985)
    (Bruce Beresford, IMDb)
    US DVD

    61. Esther (1986)
    (Amos Gitai, IMDb)

    62. Samson dan Delilah (1987)
    (Sisworo Gautama Putra, IMDb)
    French DVD

    63. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
    (Martin Scorsese, IMDb)
    Rent on YouTube.

    64. Jésus de Montréal (1989)
    (Denys Arcand, IMDb)
    Free on YouTube.

    65. The Garden (1990)
    (Derek Jarman, IMDb)

    66. The Visual Bible: Matthew (1993)
    (Regardt van den Bergh, IMDb)
    Also on YouTube.

    67. Al-mohager (1994)
    (Youssef Chahine, IMDb)
    Streaming on Netflix.

    68. Jeremiah (1998)
    (Harry Winer, IMDb)

    69. The Prince of Egypt (1998)
    (Simon Wells, Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, IMDb)

    70. The Book of Life (1998)
    (Hal Hartley, IMDb)
    Streaming on Vimeo.

    71. La genèse (1999)
    (Cheick Oumar Sissoko, IMDb)

    72. Jesus (1999)
    (Roger Young, IMDb)

    73. The Miracle Maker (2000)
    (Stanislav Sokolov, Derek W. Hayes, IMDb)
    Rent on YouTube.

    74. The Real Old Testament (2003)
    (Paul Hannum, Curtis Hannum, IMDb)
    Occasional DVD on eBay
    Clips on YouTube.

    75. The Visual Bible: The Gospel of John (2003)
    (Philip Saville, IMDb)

    76. The Passion of the Christ (2004)
    (Mel Gibson, IMDb)
    Bluray available but seems to have a problem. DVD
    Free on Amazon Prime.

    77. Shanti Sandesham (2004)
    (P. Chandrasekhar Reddy, IMDb)
    Available free on YouTube.

    78. Color of the Cross (2006)
    (Jean-Claude La Marre, IMDb)
    Free on YouTube.

    79. Jezile [Son of Man] (2006)
    (Mark Dornford-May, IMDb)
    Free on YouTube.

    80. The Nativity Story (2006)
    (Catherine Hardwicke, IMDb)

    81. Mesih [Jesus, Spirit of God] (2007)
    (Nader Talebzadeh, IMDb)
    Available free on YouTube.

    82. The Passion (2008)
    (, IMDb)

    83. El cant dels ocells (2008)
    (Albert Serra, IMDb)
    Available on Mubi

    84. Oversold (2008)
    (Paul Morrell, IMDb)
    Download from Amazon

    85. Year One (2009)
    (Harold Ramis, IMDb)

    86. Io sono con te (2010)
    (Guido Chiesa, IMDb)

    87. Su re (2012)
    (Giovanni Columbu, IMDb)

    88. The Bible (2013)
    (, IMDb)

    89. Noah (2014)
    (Darren Aronofsky, IMDb)

    90. The Savior (2014)
    (Robert Savo, IMDb)
    Rent on Amazon.

    91. Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
    (Ridley Scott, IMDb)

    92. The Red Tent (2014)
    (Roger Young, IMDb)

    93. Os Dez Mandamentos: O Filme (2016)
    (Alexandre Avancini, IMDb)
    Brazilian DVD/Bluray.

    94. Risen (2016)
    (Kevin Reynolds, IMDb)

    95. Get Some Money (2017)
    (Biko Nyongesa, IMDb)
    Director to make available soon

    96. Mary Magdalene (2018)
    (Garth Davis, IMDb)
    Rent on YouTube.

    97. Paul, Apostle of Christ (2018)
    (Andrew Hyatt, IMDb)

    98. Seder-Masochism (2018)
    (Nina Paley, IMDb)
    Free online download via director.

    99. Assassin 33 A.D. (2020)
    (Jim Carroll, IMDb)
    Available from Amazon.
    Also released as Black Easter.

    100. Lamentations of Judas (2020)
    (Boris Gerrets, IMDb)
    Currently unavailable


    Saturday, August 12, 2023

    Jesus' Humour in Bible Movies

    I got a question from a friend asking if I knew of any clips of "Jesus laughing or being funny in any Jesus films" and if seemed like it might be an interesting subject for a blog post. They mentioned The Chosen and I agree it's an obvious starting place, because Jesus' sense of humour is so much more fully developed in that series than any other production that I'm aware of. So maybe we can take that as read, or maybe we'll just return to Jesus' sense of humour in The Chosen because it's quite a topic in itself. Feel free to post any good examples in the comments.

    The Comedy Jesus Films

    An obvious place to start is comedies which feature Jesus as a character. However, in most of the obvious examples, Jesus is played straight, it's the antics around him where characters might be said to joke; or it's the fact that a non-joking Jesus is in an unusual context that provides the humour.

    Take for example Luis Buñuel's The Milky Way (1969). Jesus appears a few times. The first time he is thinking of shaving his beard off. It's a funny scene, but the joke is about quirky juxtaposition. Moments later Jesus is running late – again, a normal element of being human that somehow feels at odds with how Jesus is traditionally portrayed

    I covered 9 films that could be classed as comedic in my book, but most of them were based on the Hebrew Bible. Nevertheless only one of them was written in that style of humour where one of the characters provides humour by saying intentionally funny things (e.g. Jerry in Seinfeld or Chandler in Friends), Hal Hartley's The Book of Life (1998). Here the 'funny' character is Satan even though Jesus (who has come to judge the living and the dead) remains the 'hero', though much of the humour comes from the quirky and surreal world to which Jesus returns.

    Indeed the existing comedy Bible movies are mostly written in that style where the characters themselves play things straight despite the fact they exist in a funny / absurd world / situation or they are the absurd ones. None of these films play Jesus as absurd, though I've not seen much of Black Jesus (2014-19) yet.

    Perhaps the most obvious example of the absurd universe model is the most famous comedic Bible Film Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979). Here Jesus only appears briefly at the start delivering the Sermon on the Mount in traditional fashion. The humour comes from the absurd conversations that happen at the edges of the crowd and then as the film pans out further we discover Jesus may very well be the only sane character in the entire character.

    The other film that might qualify as a comedy Jesus film is Get Some Money (2017) directed by Biko Nyongesa. The original short film of the same name was billed as a comedy about Judas' suicide. As someone not really familiar with a Kenyan sense of humour I found it difficult to relate to the humour – suicide tends not to be played for laughs in Anglo-American culture. Some bits were still amusing though again Jesus himself was not making jokes or wry observations.

    Lastly there's Jesus of Montreal (1989) which, as it is often observed, is not really a Jesus film at all as much as a film about Jesus which leans heavily on allegory. Interestingly Daniel, the character in the film who is portraying Jesus in a play, does have a sense of humour, but that's no something that carries over to his performance of Jesus. So the Christ-figure is funny, but not the Jesus figure. Indeed many of the classic Christ-figure films give their hero a sense of humour, but I'm going to resist going off on that tangent.

    In short, while several films are funny about Jesus, none of those really portray Jesus as having a sense of humour. However, there are several of the more traditional-style Jesus films which do give Jesus a sense of humour, so lets turn to them now.

    Son of Man (1969) 

    Dennis Potter's play, Son of Man was groundbreaking in so many ways, but it was when Gareth Davies adapted it for the BBC that elements of Jesus' humour began to emerge. The actor Davies picked as his lead – Colin Blakely – gives an electric performance as Jesus and his version of the Sermon on the Mount is a particular highlight. There are a few changes to the script. I'm not sure whether Potter rewrote it for the television, or if that was down to Davies, or just the way Blakely delivered the scene. Perhaps a combination of the three, but it's there that a couple of little humorous interjections emerge. The potential is there in Potter's words, but Blakely injects the scene with the impression that not only does his Jesus realise humour is a useful tool, but that he is clearly revelling in using it. "It's easy to love those who love you" says Blakely with perfect comic timing "Why even the tax collector can do that". Later, he admits it would hurt were someone to strike you on the cheek and when Brian Blessed's Peter adds "Yes, especially if I were to do it Master!", Jesus roars with laughter along with everyone else. The signs of Jesus' sense of humour are brief, but very much there.

    The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

    Scorsese's interpretation of the story was different in so many ways from its predecessors that it's hardly a surprise that humour is one of the elements of Jesus' humanity (though perhaps it's a divine characteristic too) which it draws out. In some ways this is surprising as Jesus tends to be very intense and serious in this movie. The first flicker of a sense of humour here occurs in the stoning scene. Jesus is challenging the crowd about their own sin. When Zebedee steps forward claiming he's not done anything wrong, Jesus asks him his mistresses' name. It's meant rhetorically, but when another member of the crowd shouts out "Judith", Jesus raises his eyebrow wryly. At a recent screening, which I introduced, the audience laughed at that moment. 

    Shortly afterwards the disciples arrive at the Wedding at Cana, which Nathaniel (whose cousin is getting married) is helping out with. When the wine runs out Jesus asks what is in the nearby jars. Nathaniel informs him that they're only water – he filled them himself. Jesus suggests he check anyway. Nathaniel is insistent, but eventually gives way, only to discover they are now filled with wine. Nathaniel stares back at Jesus open mouthed. Jesus – in what has become a much used meme, raises his glass with an told-you-so smile.

    There's not much more to it than that, but certainly this was a development, and moreover it's perhaps the only moment in any Jesus production prior to The Chosen where I smile at Jesus' sense of humour. 

    The Visual Bible: Matthew (1994)

    If Scorsese's introduction of a Jesus with a sense of humour was a bit of an innovation then Regardt van den Bergh's Matthew was a revolution. Bruce Marchiano received instruction from his director to play Jesus as a "Man of Joy" (p.72) and inspiration from an 8 year old friend who remarked "Well I sure hope he smiles a lot because Jesus in the other Jesus movies never smiled, and I know that Jesus smiles all the time". Marchiano certainly delivered on that guidance, giving the most joyful, smiley portrayal of Jesus imaginable. Even the passages where it's hard to image Jesus smiling, Marchiano keeps going, for example the 7 woes of Matt 23. He later reflected that "Jesus smiled bigger and laughed heartier than any human being who's ever walked the planet". While it occasionally rankles with an old curmudgeon like me, many have found it life-changing.

    But smiling and laughing are not the same as "being funny" and here van den Bergh and Marchiano were limited by the former's decision to stick to a word for word adaptation of Matthew's text. Yet while Matthew is not the kind of witty text that will instantly have you in stitches, it's important to remember even the deliberate examples of wit we do have from that period do not seem particularly funny to us today. 

    In that context there are one or two moments of humour in Matthew that feel not out of place in that context and the film certainly tries to stress the point that this is meant to be humorous. The most memorable is when it comes to Matt 7:3-5 ("How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?"). This bit of comic exaggeration often cited as an example of humour in the Bible and, as if to underline the point, Marchiano picks up a big piece of wood and holds it against his eye as he delivers the line. It's not the greatest piece of comic delivery, but it does, at least, make the point. 

    Jesus (1999)

    Roger Young's miniseries tries, as much as any previous Jesus film, so show Jesus having a laugh. There's the moment when he and his disciples rush to a water point, desperate for a drink and he playfully splashes them with the water and another similar moment later on. 

    Perhaps the most memorable scene in this respect is when some street performers seek to get the crowd – which Jesus is part of – to dance. Jesus (played by a youthful Jeremy Sisto) is very keen and jumps right up. Thomas (of course!) is less entranced and so Jesus seeks to coax him out of his shell a bit. It plays as funny, but in real life I would hate it if someone tried this. Jesus! You don't need my compliance to validate your own joy at dancing.

    Elsewhere Jesus' style of preaching is more open than in many films. When he preaches he doesn't just get the kind of questions we find in the Bible, also gets heckled, and his reaction is to laugh along. Jesus himself doesn't tell jokes in this film, but he certainly is shown to have a good sense of humour.

    More recent productions

    All of these examples are from the twentieth century. Are there any, more-recent examples? Casting my mind back, I remember Jesus being generally cheery and good natured in films such as The Miracle Maker (2000) and Risen (2016) and perhaps even a little self-depricating in such a way as to suggest he doesn't take himself too seriously. But neither contain laughter, humour or jokes. Meanwhile 2006's Color of the Cross, Son of God (2014), Killing Jesus (2015) and Last Days in the Desert (2016) probably reversed the general trend of getting Jesus to lighten up a bit from his earlier silver screen outings, and presented him as a more serious figure. Likewise other non-English language efforts such as Shanti Sandesham (2004),  Jezile (Son of Man, 2006), Su re (2012) and The Savior (2014) also have a more serious-minded approach. There is are a couple of exceptions and like Son of Man (1969) above, both are from British television...

    The Second Coming (2003)

    In 2003 Christopher Ecclestone, the (then) future Doctor Who, starred as the son of God come back to earth as a working class Mancunian. Northern humour was very much part of the mix. In one scene as he speaks to a vast crown he reminds them of scientific breakthroughs with potentially apocalyptic consequences and asks  "Do you think you're reading for that much power?...You lot?....You cheeky bastards!" 

    The line that most stays with me comes from the end of the first episode. I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it (it's currently on the Internet Archive), but even twenty years after watching it I could remember the episode's final line. "Well, maybe two".

    Second Coming is far from a conventional Jesus film, and it's notable that this was an ITV production rather than something from the BBC. This is very much a Jesus who jokes, even if he's arguably more intense than many of the others. Moreover this is a Jesus who jokes and uses humour, but doesn't really smile and laugh that much (and when he does it's slightly unnerving).

    The Passion (2008)

    The Passion first broadcast by the BBC in 2008 contains a few humorous notes in its very first scene. Jesus and the disciples are attempting to buy a donkey and its colt and when their business is done the seller realises who Jesus is. Jesus asks him what he's heard and when the seller mentions overthrowing the Romans Jesus replies "Does this look like an army...apart from John and James". Later Jesus uses sleight of hand to inject a bit of humour into "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar" and also to turn some of his questioners cynicism back onto them. 

    This is also a Jesus who smiles and laughs as well. But the series is also keen to show those around Jesus laughing at the things he says, or more to the point how he says it. When Jesus is told "the elders instruct us" he counters "and you must listen to what they say...just don't do what they do". As Jesus, Joseph Mawle's delivery is good hear, his relaxed delivery and timing make many lines that read straight in the Gospels become funny. That is also due to Frank Deasy's script which rephrases the words from the Gospels making them more lively and immediate.

    Over to you

    That's all of the best examples I can think of, having mulled over this for a week or so. Did I miss any? If so, let me know in the comments below.

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