Written and Directed by Denys Arcand
Starring Lothaire Bluteau, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, RÃ©my Girard, Robert Lepage, Catherine Wilkening, Gilles Pelletier
- Cast biographies
Released by: Koch Lorber.
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Fans should consider it.
The Passion Play, the theatrical depiction of the last days of Christ, is a centuries-old tradition of the Catholic Church. However in modern Montreal, the Play is under a greater threat than Martin Luther: it’s boring. Father LeClerc (Pelletier) is put in charge of getting butts in the seats, or pews, as it were. So he brings in a young actor/director, Daniel (Bluteau), to restage it for a modern audience. Daniel recruits Constance (Tremblay), an old friend who had been in the play before, to find collaborators. The possibility of actually acting enlists Martin (Girard) from dubbing pornography, Rene (Lepage) from doing voiceover for educational films, and Mirelle (Wilkening) from superficial television commercials. The show they put on is innovative in both presentation and substance. Therein lays the problem.
Daniel and his ‘apostles’ show how Jesus’ conception, miracles, and resurrection may have been exaggerated, overstated, and embellished. They focus on his message…which is decidedly anti-authoritarian. The show is getting huge audiences, winning over the artistic intelligentsia, and causing the church hierarchy conniption fits. They wanted a touch-up, not re-imagining Christ as Anarchist Revolutionary. What’s worse, Daniel is starting to become more immersed in his role as the Messiah than might be healthy. Once again, people are asking what is to be done with this Jesus of Montreal.
As the title can tell you, religion is a main theme in the movie. In fact, as you can tell from the synopsis, the plot parallels the life of Jesus. At times, this parallel becomes too obvious. When Daniel trashes a commercial audition, you’d have to be blind not to see this is chasing the money changers out of the temple. Of course, Mirelle is the modern Mary Magdalene, who used to “whore” herself out for a thirty-second spot for cologne. This means you know where the story is going. But, like the story of Jesus, just because you know how the story is going to end doesn’t mean the story lacks power.
Arcand uses the Passion story to complement the story of a group of actors pursuing innovation and artistic purity while the organization who hired them wants conventionality and compliance. Instead of the decadent power of Rome and dogmatic inflexibility of the Pharisees, we have the decadent power of consumer mass culture and dogmatic inflexibility of the Catholic Church. This conflict has been going since Prometheus. Arcand is clearly on the side of the rebels. It’s only when the troupe abandon their mundane jobs and devote themselves to their art is when they truly become fulfilled.
He makes the members of the Montreal cultural scene, the critics and hangers-on, to be sycophantic flatterers and deluded that they are somehow important. And Father LeClerc is more concerned that he will be shipped off to be Winnipeg than with anything spiritual. But here too Arcand overplays the concept. Daniel looks like he’s halfway to being Jesus already with a thin soulful face and an expression of not quite being in this world. If Daniel went through more of a transformation, his eventual absorption into his role would be more striking. Still on the whole, the movie does work with its theme of the rewards and the cost of dedication to your ideals. It’s a shame that Arcand feels the need to spoon feed the audience.
The DVD is a bit of a disappointment with only cast biographies on the disc. Now, the bios do have some detail which is nice. But I would have like to have heard from the director about the process of making the film from concept to screen. I would have also liked to have heard from Bluteau on playing Jesus. It seems that most actors are affected in some way by the experience and I would have liked to hear his. Nevertheless, if you want a film on faith that a little different, rent Jesus of Montreal.