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Film / The Gospel According to St. Matthew

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The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Italian: Il Vangelo Secondo Matteonote ) is a 1964 Italian film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

It is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, namely, a cinematic adaptation of the Gospel of St. Matthew, one of The Four Gospels. It fits as much of the story of Jesus as one can into 2 hours and 17 minutes, starting with the Nativity story, following Jesus through his ministry, making a side trip to dramatize the beheading of John the Baptist, and ending with Christ's crucifixion and resurrection.

Pier Paolo Pasolini was a gay atheist communist—in other words, about as unlikely a candidate as can be imaginable to film a Jesus movie. But in 1962 he was invited by Pope John XXIII to attend a dialogue the Pope wished to have with unbelievers. In his hotel room he wound up reading all four Gospels. Inspired by the quality of the Gospels as stories, Pasolini decided to make a movie, and picked the Gospel of Matthew as being the most cinematic.

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It is the most faithful cinematic adaptation of the Bible ever made. Pasolini did not invent any original story, sticking exclusively to the Gospel of Matthew. Not only that, he didn't even write a script, sticking to the verbatim dialogue straight from Matthew.

Due to the faithfulness of Pasolini's film, many of the tropes from The Four Gospels appear in this film. Other tropes are listed below.


Tropes:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Averted in general, but Pasolini does add a small silent scene where Joseph, after the Three Wise Men leave, goes and hugs little Jesus (now a toddler).
  • Big Ol' Unibrow: Of all the characters in drama, you probably wouldn't expect Jesus Christ to have one. But it's how Enrique Irazoqui really looked, and it kind of fits this film's vision of a militant, rabble-rousing Jesus.
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  • Bloodless Carnage: Most films showing the passion and crucifixion would show Jesus getting A Taste of the Lash and being pretty messed up by the time he's on the way to Calvary. But not only does Pasolini omit the scourging (which Matthew does mention), Jesus looks perfectly fine and in good health as he's marching up the Via Dolorosa.
  • Culture Chop Suey: The soundtrack combines Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew's Passion (especially Pasolini's favorite Erbarme Dich, Mein Gott) with Missa Luba (the Congolese version of the Latin Mass that was a popular world music recording in the 50s-70s), with American blues: Odetta's "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" (which plays during the meeting of the three wise men with Mary and Joseph) and even a Jewish music "Kol Nidre".
  • Death of a Child: The Massacre of the Innocents probably has never been staged in a more terrifying manner than Pasolini does here, with a squadron of soldiers rampaging through Bethlehem, chasing terrified mothers, ripping the babies from their arms and chopping the babies with swords.
  • Despair Event Horizon: This is perhaps the first adaptation of Jesus that features him declaring on the Cross: "Father why hast thou forsaken me?"
  • Disturbed Doves: When Jesus goes around Flipping the Table in the Temple, one of the things he flips over is a wicker barrel containing doves, which fly off.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Jesus is presented this way when he's teaching his disciples the Lord's Prayer, giving him a vaguely menacing look.
  • Friend to All Children: The only time in the whole movie where Jesus cracks a smile is when some children come up to him in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and hail him as the messiah.
  • Good Is Not Nice: As noted above under Big Ol' Unibrow, this is a rather fiery, militant Jesus. Even when he heals people he orders them not to tell anybody. The quote "I am come not to bring peace on the earth but the sword", often left out of adaptations that present a more gentle, loving Jesus, is very appropriate here. The film also includes a pissed-off Jesus killing a fig tree, another scene usually left out of Bible adaptations because it is considered highly controversial, enough that Bertrand Russell cited it as grounds to dismiss Jesus Was Way Cool out of hand.
  • Kubrick Stare: Herod delivers one of these when asking the Magi where the baby Jesus is.
  • Narrator: Occasionally a narrator delivers bits of text from Matthew.
  • Ominous Fog: The sequence where Satan tempts Jesus starts out with the two meeting on a foggy mountaintop.
  • Our Angels Are Different: The angel that appears to tell Joseph what to do about his pregnant wife is dressed as a simple peasant girl, as befitting this No Budget production.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Pasolini didn't write anything new, but he did cut a couple of scenes, like the Transfiguration (which would have required a lot more money and is usually Adapted Out anyway) and the scene where a 12-year-old Jesus challenges the rabbi.
  • Silence Is Golden: As noted above, Pasolini didn't write a word of original dialogue for the movie. Consequently, scenes needed for the story that don't have any dialogue in Matthew don't have any dialogue in the film either. The scene at the beginning establishes the story by showing a closeup of Mary, a closeup of Joseph, a medium shot showing that Mary is heavily pregnant, and a long shot of an obviously distressed Joseph walking away—all in silence.
  • Time Passes Montage: Rather than show the Sermon on the Mount as a single speech, as it's presented in Matthew, it's shown as various clips of Jesus speaking on different occasions, showing the progress of his ministry.
  • Working-Class Hero: One of the few movies which emphasizes this aspect of Jesus more than others, which naturally fit Pasolini's own political sympathies.

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