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Video Review: Jesus of Montreal (1989)

August 23, 2011
  • Dir. Denys Arcand
  • Released by Koch-Lorber
  • Written by Denys Arcand
  • Rating ****
Original Laserdicks Review:
Well, the WGA strike is over, so here are my thoughts at last!
Quebecian (Quebecish?) director Denys Arcand (creator of the American Empire Trilogy: Le Déclin de l’empire américain, Les invasions barbares, and L’âge des ténèbres) brings us the finest in French-Canadian cinema with Jesus of Montreal, the story of an acting troupe that takes bold liberties when hired to put on a Passion Play.
The protagonist, Daniel (Lothaire Bluteau), follows his own controversial ministry in presenting a rather secular version of the life of Christ, and much as the Jewish Sanhedrin of the early years A.D./C.E. tried to suppress the anti-conventional teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, the Roman Catholic authorities decide to silence the performance artists. The film thus suggests that modern Christianity has very much become the hypocritical elitist organization that it was initially formed to oppose, and ironically, the characters who reject the divinity of Jesus are the ones who are truly the most Christ-like.
Despite its secular heroes, the movie undeniably has a strong spirituality about it, rendering it much more powerful and moving than stale productions such as The Greatest Story Ever Told. The over-sanitized, holy-to-a-fault cinematic representations of Jesus do no justice to the Real Deal, and only the bolder, more transgressive versions, such as this film and The Last Temptation of Christ, really seem to invest much interest in the emotional complexities of being the Reformer-Messiah figure. A rather sad commentary on the typical Christian view of its own Lord and founder, no?
Arcand, a lapsed Catholic who attended Jesuit school in his youth, takes some shots at the Christian establishment throughout the film, but the greater result of the work is a sort of postmodern veneration of Jesus that does not suffer from detachment or white-washing, a Passion Play worthy of the Nazarene. Some viewers might find the movie blasphemous, or at least heretical, but only the most closed-minded of audiences would claim that the film is not compelling.

From → Film Criticism

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