Friday, May 6, 2011

Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo, or The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)

Cinema Sweetheart's Rating: 5 out of 10
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Starring: Enrique Irazoqui, Margherita Caruso, and Susanna Pasolini
Rated: Not Rated
Genre: Religious, Historical, Drama, Biography
Runtime: 137 Minutes
Language: Italian (dubbed in English)

Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo is not exactly my first choice of film.  That's not to say that I don't enjoy a good theological film or anything like that.  It's just that when looking for the Gospel of Matthew in a movie form, I would normally turn to Godspell.  However, if you're in a somber mood, have about two hours to set aside, and are a well-versed Christian, this is surely a film you would enjoy.

Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo is basically what you would get if you fed the Gospel of Matthew into a screen-writing machine and handed out the completed piece as a script.  That's not to say that there aren't inaccuracies and changes made, but rather that the plot takes you straight from the Nativity to the Resurrection and everything in between--complete with choppy transitions and lots of speeches.

One frustrating aspect of Il Vengelo Secondo Matteo is that you really have to be a Christian to understand it.  Not enjoy it.  Understand it.  The film lacked transitions that make plots easier to follow, and besides that, there were very few details to designate who certain characters were.  Mary and Joseph were not named in the opening scene, and even later on in the film, it was difficult to tell who several of the characters (including John, Peter, and Judas) were.  All viewers had to go off of was the classic actions performed by them in Gospels.  I was also bothered by the lack of transitions between the scenes.  It was almost as though Pasolini decided that he wanted to change the scene, and he wanted to change it right that second, so he just jumped into it.  Now, it’s understandable if this is how the Gospel plays it out, but for the viewer, it can be a bit confusing.  We don’t have chapters and verses to break it up for us.

And of course, who can forget the dubbing?  Personally, the one thing I love so much about foreign films is the language.  I can’t understand any of it, but there is something delightful about listening to the sound of the French in Germinal or the Italian in Life is Beautiful.  However, with a dubbed film, I usually feel like I’ve been force-fed some sort of nasty meat-substitute in place of real beef.  What I mean to say is that it’s kind of shitty.  This was one of the better dubbings I’ve heard, but even so, I would have greatly preferred subtitles instead.  It was annoying when the English-speaking actors would rush through their lines because the Italian was shorter, or when you could see that the lips obviously didn’t match what was being said.

However, putting all my complaints aside, I have to say that there were several things that I really liked about this movie.  First, I loved the cinematography.  The sets were amazing; and when you were shown a scene, it wasn’t just a little piece of it.  Actually, the camera would pan out and show you everything…and it was beautiful!  When you weren’t panned out on the scenery, the camera was drawn close to all the faces…I loved seeing the faces.  There were so many people with so many unusual faces and expressions….it made you feel as though you were right there in the crowd coming to see Jesus; a sense of intimacy was produced with the film and the audience. 

Enrique Irazoqui was an amazing Jesus.  His commanding presence among the people was perfectly offset by the gentle smile he gave the children.  What interested me the most, though, was his appearance in general.  Strange as it may seem, I was surprised to see a short-haired Jesus.  The long-haired, bearded Jew has become the iconic picture of Jesus.  This one was a bit different from how I pictured him looking.  I was also a bit surprised by how serious he was.  I guess I always thought of Jesus as someone a little more kindly.  That’s not to say that Irazoqui was too harsh; just different.

All in all, I would say that this was a good film.  If you’re interested in Christian Theology, then you would probably enjoy this.  (I enjoyed it for that reason).  However be forewarned about the length and the terrible dubbing.  If you are able to find a DVD copy, you’ll have to tell me if they have it in the original Italian or not.  I had to watch an old library VHS, haha.

(On a side note, there is a version of this film in color.  Get the black and white variation; something is lost in the transition to color!)

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