Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Short Take: The Gospel According to St. Matthew

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini’s interpretation of the life of Christ, has a stark, fierce beauty. It is perhaps the most powerful treatment of the material to reach the screen. Pasolini displays a neorealist eye for gritty detail and everyday idiosyncrasy. The only things more craggy and plain than the landscape are the actors’ faces. Everyone looks as if they have been shaped--even scarred--by experience every day of their lives. The film’s Christ (Enrique Irazoqui; voice by Enrico Maria Salerno) is intense and uncompromising. He easily conveys that he will brook no argument in his efforts to bring humanity the divine word. One cannot help but admire Pasolini’s restraint in moments other filmmakers treat as opportunities for showmanship. The miracles and Passion are presented with a minimum of spectacle. Moments such as the dance of Salomé, who is refreshingly depicted as an innocent, have a quiet, reserved dignity. Pasolini eschews the temptations of pageantry and violence, and it makes the story all the more powerful. Tonino delli Colli provided the austere, evocative black-and-white cinematography. The eclectic score, which ranges from selections from Bach to the Congolese Missa Luba, was supervised by Luis Bacalov.

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