Movie Review: Gospel According to Matthew

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
Pier Paolo Pasolini's Gospel According to Matthew was made in 1964 and dedicated to Pope John XXIII (Pasolini did not want 'St' -Saint - in the English title). Recognized for its artistic virtues, it won a special jury prize at the 25th Venice Film Festival and was nominated for three Oscars in 1967. Pope John XXII revolutionized Catholic Church liturgy with Vatican II and favored an open climate in the church, which dispensed with the Latin mass and denounced anti-Semitism. Pasolini said he would never have been able to make his film under Pius XII which was 'crawling with fascists". Mel Gibson and his family of origin oppose Vatican II. Pasolini's film and Gibson's are markedly different so that one better understands why there was so much controversy for The Passion of the Christ. Gibson's film ironically was shot partly in the old section of Matera called Sassi in southern Italy, an area Pasolini chose for his own film forty years ago.

Pasolini's emphasis in Gospel According to Matthew was on the mythmaking of 2000 years of Christian history. Jesus is portrayed as an angry revolutionary and the Italian public hailed the film. The Italian director did not believe Christ was the Son of God, and he chose his film from the word of one evangelist, Matthew. He considered Matthew to be the earthiest of the evangelists but did not claim accountability for interpretations of his chapter and verse. Pasolini's relationship to Catholicism was an external rather than an internal one (such as Mel Gibson's),which was usual in Italy. The director used non-actors, including his mother who plays an older Mary, Jesus' mother. There are many close-ups of faces with no dialogue.

Pasolini's Christ was "an intellectual in a world of the poor available for revolution". Several of his speeches are made not only to listeners in the story space of the film but to the film spectator. The emphasis was on his rhetorical ability to unite, and transform devotees. The film is black and white, a low budget production shot with a handheld camera. It is a "cinema verité" of the time with a glorious soundtrack which includes: Bach, Mozart, Prokofiev, African American Spirituals, and Missa Luba from the Congo (uncredited).

The Gospel According to Matthew opens on a very pregnant Virgin Mary and it's obvious that from the looks of Joseph, he doesn't want to be with her. The young angel Gabriel tells to him to reconsider. The baby is born and wise men come and show their thanks. Soon Jesus becomes a young man played by the Spaniard Enrique Irazoqui whose voice is dubbed into Italian. Powerful and fiery recitations in the countryside are accompanied by a chorus of women with the film's eclectic music in the background. Jesus presents his ideas to city dwellers and learned men alike who question him and test him and later decide to kill him. Later, Pontius Pilate holds court with close-ups of the teary eyes of John at the trial. The way to Golgotha is speedy as is Jesus's time on the cross. Mary weeps profusely, Jesus is taken down from the cross and an earthquake destroys parts of Matera.

A 17-year-old man murdered the controversial director Pier Pasolini in 1975 on the skirts of Rome. Openly gay and openly political, the famous director and poet was the champion of the poor. Towards the end of his life, he had tired of the commercialism of Italy and the spread of television.

For Movie Magazine, This is Moira Sullivan Stockholm SWEDEN

More Information:
Gospel According to Matthew
France/Italy - 1964