Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jesus of Montreal


This is Easter weekend so Norman and I headed off to church to celebrate. I, of course, wore the traditional Easter bonnet, a confection of lilies and wisteria tied up in pink and lavender netting dusted with rhinestones. It would have been a tremendous success had not several wasps tried to pollinate my scalp after the service. I had to skip the traditional parade down the sidewalk and retire home with something of a headache. While I was having a little lie down, Norman used the time to color eggs and then lob them at passing cars yelling 'Trick or Treat'. I think it's time to have his medications adjusted again.

All in all, things have been quiet at Chateau Maine. GlamourPuss gowns continues to grow. Even that darling little girl, Babs Streisand, called looking for a design to wear to the Ego awards banquet next month. Bob Mackie and I are making her a RumTumTugger with a dainty little yak hair collar. We’re having it died to match her hair color of the month. The Meow Mix commercial is in postproduction and should debut soon. To top things off, my agents have called with a possible new film appearance on which I should have more details later in the week.

Looking for a suitable seasonal film, I happened across Jesus of Montreal , a French-Canadian film by Denys Arcand from the 80s. I was a little confused at first by the title; I always thought Montreal was somewhere up north and not in the Holy Land but geography was never my strongest subject. I was also a bit confused by the fact that the characters were all speaking French, rather than Aramaic, but the subtitles soon cleared that up.

Jesus of Montreal is the story of an actor (Lothaire Bluteau) who is hired by the priest of a Catholic church in Montreal to revamp the traditional Passion play presented at Easter. The priest thinks that jazzing up the script a bit may bring more parishioners to the flock. The actor, Daniel, immerses himself in the library looking at modern biblical scholarship on the historical Jesus and produces a radically different version of the Passion story. His new script focuses on Jesus’ humanity, rather than the mythology of the Bible that usually dominates such productions. This, of course, offends the ecclesiastical authorities while energizing the public and conflict ensues. This conflict leads to Daniel's life reflecting the events of the Passion as he and his fellow actors, the disciple figures, struggle to realize their vision.

The Passion play within the film is a fascinating piece of work, obviously from someone of deep faith who is not afraid to question traditional assumptions while remaining honest to the spirit of the original events. Even more interesting, however, are the events of Daniel's life and the parallels to the Passion, which show the timelessness of the story and its emotional themes. He begins by recruiting his actors in the same way that Jesus found his disciples, people on the outskirts willing to share in his vision. As the film progresses, events happen that parallel Jesus’ appearance before the Pharisees, his clearing of the Temple, the temptation on the mountaintop, and, most movingly, the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Arcand's script is ingenious at finding ways to make modern equivalents of these events fit naturally into the storyline and character interactions.

The biggest disappointment in the film is the casting of Bluteau in the pivotal role of Daniel/Jesus. Bluteau, as an actor, always comes across as a passive individual being manipulated by events where the role calls out for a strong individual with a charisma that would explain the attraction of the other actors and their commitment to what is obviously a doomed project. His slight stature and elfin features don’t help. Fortunately, he’s a competent actor and the film is well enough made with sufficient conviction to overcome what could be, in hands less sure than Arcand’s, a fatal flaw.

It is one of the few films I have ever seen that authentically captures religious spirituality and can impart that to its audience. Its telling of the Easter story, while completely untraditional in nature, is also far more compelling than any of the swords and sandals versions Hollywood has turned out over the years.

Porn dubbing. Big bang narrations. Gratuitous Kundera references. Unchaste priest. Destroyed audio-visual equipment. Unctuous entertainment lawyers. Sacred music. Gratuitous subway station songfest. Eyesight restored. 

No comments:

Post a Comment