Today: February 21, 2024

The Gospel According To Matthew

When renowned atheist and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini was

When
renowned atheist and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini was approached by none other
than the Pope, to create a cinematic retelling of the story of Christ he
probably had no idea that his film would become one of the great religious
films.
Except The Gospel According to Matthew isn’t your typical Sunday
afternoon bible story. Pasolini depicted Christ as a radical Marxist, who
whilst still preaching the word of God, was more direct and confrontational
than any Christ before. Drawing straight from Marxist and Neorealist
traditions, Pasolini cast nonprofessional actors (including Enrique Irazoqul who plays Christ) and
had a script made up of nothing but bible passages. Despite this the film is
largely dialogue free and we are left to gaze upon the scenery and study the
actors faces as if they were classical paintings. Yet this is a very different
beast to a Caravaggio masterpiece.

All of the well-known stories of Jesus
are here but explored in a completely different a nontraditional manner. The
birth, King Herod, the donkeys, the miracles, the disciples, the crucifixion
and the resurrection but they are void of all the grandiose iconography that we
know. Instead Pasolini has stripped back and ignored the 2,000 year old
teachings and looked at the gospel with new eyes. It speaks as a fresh,
intuitive and albeit simple parable. Viewers don’t become dumbfounded by the
politics of the time nor are we subject to an overwhelming sense of majesty and
gratitude. The speeches that Christ gives throughout the film have not be
tinkered with whatsoever but the way in which they are presented, somehow makes
them seem as relevant as ever. Backed up by a persistent and eclectic
soundtrack, that ranges from classical, folk and African tribe music can give
what may seem like an old tale new energy.

Although Pasolini himself was skeptical
of the church and religion, The Gospel
According to Matthew isn’t a damming portrayal of Christianity,
like Kevin Smith‘s Red
State
for instance. Gospel
is instead a study of religion rather than being a religious in its
execution. It has more realism than The Passion of the Christ and
more artistry than The Greatest Story Ever Told. So
respected is this film, that the Vatican still hail it as one of their few recommended
films.

Pasolini was never a man to pull his
punches or hold back on ideas, and much of what was to come in his career can
be seen within Gospel. An
accompanying documentary with the Blu-ray, Sopralluoghi in Palestina,
in which Pasolini explores Palestine and Israel to seek out locations for his
films shows the mans dedication and frustration with his craft. So much so was
his disappointment in the original Holy Land that he decided to relocate the
entire film to the south of Italy.

Considering this is a black and white
film made nearly 50 years ago, its Blu-ray restoration is quite beautiful.
Everything still looks as pristine as the day it was filmed which just goes to
show the level of film making at hand. Pasolini will perhaps be best remembered
for his controversial attack of society in Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom
but he should be remembered for creating The
Gospel According to Matthew. This is a film that transcends all
religion and cinema. A true piece of art.

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