Join me in beginning the Lenten season with my favorite adaptation of one of the Gospels- Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1964 “Il Vangolo Secondo Matteo" (The Gospel According to St. Matthew) and a few classics that I recently discovered.
Considered by the Vatican to be among the best film adaptations of the Gospels, Pasolini's film was shot in the regions of Basilicata and Calabria. He cast his mother as Mary and many locals as extras. Spanish actor Enrique Irazoqui was cast in the role of Jesus. He was just 18-years-old when he landed the part. He had been in Rome at the time of casting. Acquaintances arranged a meeting between him and Pasolini. When Pasolini saw Irazoqui, he knew right away that he had found his Jesus.
I contacted Irazoqui around this time last year to ask him about his experience making the film. He suggested that we have a conversation via Skype. Although the connection wasn’t very good, it was thrilling to talk directly with this actor whose film I had been watching for at least 20 years. He was very friendly and nostalgic in his recollections especially about Elsa Morante with whom he shared a lifelong friendship. In fact, he said that meeting her was one of his best memories of working on the film. Irazoqui passed away a few months later and I believe that ours was his last interview. I will cherish it.
Watch our interview on YouTube..
If you'd like to know more about Pasolini in Basilicata, click here to read my 2015 interview with Daniele Bracuto, president of the region's Cineforum Pier Paolo Pasolini. We talked about the locations of the film, what attracted Pasolini to shoot there and the legacy of his filmmaking on the region. Also, check my 2018 documentary "Return to Lucania" in which actor/director Antonio Andrisani talks about his 2017 film "Il Vangolo Secondo Mattei" (The Gospel According to St. Mathews), a take on Pasolini's film, which stars Flavio Bucci with Irazoqui in a cameo role. The film addresses the controversial issue of oil drilling in Basilicata, a topic that interested Pasolini.
Liliana Cavani’s “Francesco” is another very good biblical film. Starring Mickey Rourke and Helena Bonham Carter, Cavani’s 1989 film tells the story of St. Francis of Assisi from the point-of-view of his followers. Tapping into her early years at RAI, the film takes a documentary approach as it reveals key aspects of the saint’s personality, including his humility, generosity, love of animals and his early inner conflict about abandoning his father's wealth to immerse himself in the world of the desperately poor.
I found several others available online. I'll be watching a few of these along with you for the first time. Spanning 100 years, these films are sure to keep us busy over the next 40 days!
Giulio Antamoro’s 1916 “Christus”
(Title boards are in Italian)
This spectacular restoration of the 1916 original follows the life of Jesus Christ from the Annunciation of Our Lady to his birth and through his early life and betrayal by Judas, concluding with the crucifixion and his resurrection and ascension to Heaven.
Roberto Rossellini’s 1975 “The Messiah”
(I could not find this film with English subtitles but as we have so many Italian and Spanish-speaking readers, I am including the versions in those languages.)
I have not yet seen this film.. but I found this commentary here. "Though The Messiah is not a flawless film, it is a great one. For one thing, since its subject is usually conceived of in apolitical terms, the inconsistencies of Rossellini's historical method are perhaps less bothersome than they are elsewhere. Furthermore, the director's treatment of the all too familiar story is refreshingly astringent, and the typical strategies of dedramatized acting and antispectacular mise-en-scène here find their perfect subject."
(In Italian with Croation subtitles)