The best thing to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew is the matter to which it handles the subject it depicts, it never succumbs to a specific bias. Many films about the life of Jesus Christ exist but there is a reason as to why Pier Paolo Pasolini’s take happens to be the very best of the bunch. Years ago, this was my introduction to the films of Pasolini and it remains my favourite. It was interesting to see how Pier Paolo Pasolini of everyone would be taking on the task of directing a film telling the story of the life of Jesus Christ, especially when it is put into consideration that he was a homosexual, an atheist, and a Marxist – but that calls for why The Gospel According to St. Matthew is the best version of the story, it encourages a sense of openness, especially within both political and religious views. Even if you are not closely associated with Roman Catholicism, there are more things presented that make The Gospel According to St. Matthew a highly commendable film.
As the title would say, The Gospel According to St. Matthew is a film that tells the story of Jesus Christ and follows the Gospel of Matthew rather closely. Pasolini had reportedly chosen Matthew’s Gospel for “John was too mystical, Mark too vulgar, and Luke too sentimental.” Pasolini’s faithfulness to the words of the Gospel is one aspect that makes for incredible storytelling that is to be witnessed on the screen, but in some sense this is where the openness with differing views, whether it be religious or political, are able to come in. It’s impressive already on a count that Pier Paolo Pasolini is faithful to the progression of the original text, but knowing what more it seems he is encouraging of his viewers is where something grander at hand is presented.
The depiction of Jesus Christ in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s interpretation is something unique from all other portrayals, for we have Jesus Christ shown to the viewers from a Marxist light. In spite of the faithfulness to the story of his development, this is where Pasolini is betraying the text of Matthew but in some sense, it satisfies a specific ideology. Jesus Christ as pictured in The Gospel According to St. Matthew as the greatest revolutionary of all time, thus in this sense, Pasolini is comparing his own views to his Marxist ideals. Like the Catholic church, Marxism has collected its own strength from its many followers. It becomes clear right here that this is why the atheist Pasolini was had chosen to direct The Gospel According to St. Matthew, he understood the influences that any ideology can bring upon many people, and by looking at the life of Jesus Christ under a Marxist perspective, it creates a stronger resonance for it does not picture Jesus as a being above all others, and instead a flawed individual carrying power.
What’s equally impressive under all of this is how Pasolini employs the Italian neorealist style upon the story. In the manner to which it pictures the poor and the working class, it adds more to the power that The Gospel According to St. Matthew has upon its own viewers. It adds more power to what Pasolini is telling of for it creates a more convincing picture at hand. From the art direction and the costumes, there is always something to admire for it still manages to capture everything that made films of the Italian neorealist movement as powerful as they are. A beautifully transcendent score plays all throughout the film, contrasting what would be normally found in Hollywood’s take on religious tales, notably the overdone chanting, instead presenting a mix of Bach and gospel songs. With all these coming in from the style to which Pasolini is implanting, we have a much greater effect arising from the performances of the cast.
Like the films of the Italian neorealist movement, the actors who are hired are mostly nonprofessionals. The actor who played Jesus Christ is the nonprofessional Enrique Irazoqui, an agnostic student being guided by an atheist filmmaker. There’s some sort of irony which it creates for the best portrayal of Jesus Christ with this knowledge, but Pasolini’s understanding of the Bible is what makes this the powerful experience we are left with. This performance creates an understanding of what Jesus Christ truly was, a man who was so devoted to these beliefs but also had a sense of vulnerability to him. Pasolini’s humanizing of such a figure, adds more to the emotional impact which it has even on viewers who are not so closely intact with any sort of religious beliefs.
For how little Pier Paolo Pasolini has with him, what he managed to create is not only the greatest depiction of Jesus Christ ever put on film, but also one of the most unforgettable of cinematic experiences. It never succumbs to any political or religious bias, making such a film all the more significant. What Pasolini has created here is not only a film telling the story of Jesus Christ from his birth to his Crucifixion, but also an allegory for the influence that any belief can have over a significant group. For such reasons any many more, The Gospel According to St. Matthew is Pasolini at his very best, a film that understands its source well enough to a degree it calls for the openness of differing viewpoints. One does not need to be a Catholic in order to find such a film so powerful, but that’s besides the point when such a poetic statement is truly an essential piece of cinema.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Rebis Entertainment.
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Screenplay by Pier Paolo Pasolini, from the Gospel of Matthew
Produced by Alfredo Bini
Starring Enrique Irazoqui
Release Year: 1964
Running Time: 137 minutes