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Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew

27th April 2005

Peter Chataway, on his FilmChat blog, recently announced a special Vancouver viewing of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew, along with a short entitled, Seeking Locations in Palestine for “The Gospel According to St. Matthew.” This short looks quite fascinating. It doesn’t appear that it is available in DVD yet (the 2003 Water Bearer DVD release of The Gospel According to St. Matthew doesn’t include it, nor does the more recent 2004 BCI Eclipse edition).

I recently viewed The Gospel According to St. Matthew again with a friend. I am quite taken by Pasolini’s work — I see why many critics consider it one of the best Jesus films ever made. Pasolini’s stark interpretation of Matthew provides quite the contrast to Hollywood’s grand biblical epics. The bleak landscape of southern Italy and the casting are both brilliant. Most of the extras are Italian peasants and the lead roles are played by non-actors. Pasolini’s Jesus, played by Enrique Irazoqui, challenges our culturally-manufactured, stereotypical blue-eyed blond Jesus.

There are many other things I like about this film. Pasolini’s use of camera angles is captivating. The viewer seems to see Jesus from the perspective of a disciple, always following Jesus or looking at him from a distance (as when Jesus is before the Sanhedrin and Pilate). From what I could observe, Jesus almost never looks directly into the camera. He is always looking slightly off-centre, with one or two notable exceptions. The first such shot (see the picture above) is when Jesus turns and looks straight into the camera and says “if any man come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 8:24). This is a powerful shot.

Even the way Pasolini presented the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is fascinating. Jesus doesn’t say the sermon in one setting, but gives parts of the sermon in various contexts — the scenes shift between day and night, between inside and outside shots, Jesus with and without a scarf, etc. In my mind (and perhaps only in my mind!) this suggests that Pasolini wanted to present the sermon as more of a compendium of Jesus’ teachings, not a long sermon that took place at one time. And the “blessed are the cheese makers” line is brilliant! Oh, so sorry, that’s Monty Python.

To make a long blog entry short: I highly recommend Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew. And if you live in the Vancouver, B.C., area, make sure to see it on the big screen! (I am quite envious)

The film is available in both DVD (Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com) and VHS format (Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com).

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