Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Jesus of Nazareth (Zeffirelli)

It's interesting watching films of the gospels...

This is probably the most critically acclaimed one, but not necessarily the best. For what it's worth, the Passion of the Christ is better in every respect from Gethsemane onwards.

Important points to note about this film:

  • Overwhelmingly white and British. Most characters have RP accents. Donald Pleasence as one of the Magi is particularly unsettling. And that also means they don't show enough emotion.
  • It's done in the style of a "film of the book" where they mess about with the plot-line quite a bit. They even mess up bits of the theology (Jesus on the Law, for example).
  • Lots of good incidental stuff - it actually looks like 1st century Judea for much of the film (geeky note - though they get the temple wrong. The stones are much too small, for one thing).
  • Very few special effects, which means very few miracles.

What's interesting on the subject of miracles is that the film actually seems to be telling the story in a sceptical way - kind of like >Shadow of the Galilean, but less extreme. Most films from books jazz the plot up a bit. This does the opposite. So the only miracles are the feeding of the 5000, raising of Lazarus and Jairus' daughter (done so there's questions over how dead they were), the healing of a man born blind (done with questions over whether he was blind at all, even before he is healed). There's no darkness at the crucifixion, not even a storm.

The Resurrection is particularly oddly done - you don't see Mary meeting Jesus, but you do see her telling the disciples. There's then a long scene where Peter seems to persuade everyone that Jesus is alive because they all betrayed him and so they have to spread his message (not sure how that was meant to work). Then you have the Great Commission scene, where after the previous scene you're not sure if it's fantasy or not. I honestly wasn't sure whether Zeffirelli wanted to say the Resurrection happened or wanted to try to explain how people might have thought it happened. He probably left it deliberately ambiguous.

I'd be happy with using clips from this in church - the Triumphal Entry, for example, is done well, and there's some good discussion over expecting the Messiah to be a military figure. And it's good to be reminded of large chunks of the gospel narrative. But at the end of the day, I don't think it's actually telling the same story as the gospels.

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