Pier Paolo Pasolini's film has an awesome reputation as the best film based on the story of Jesus.
When I say that, for me, the film is problematic, I have no wish to take anything away from the director's achievement because I think this is a very heartfelt film. As a Christian myself I am aware that both believers and non-believers have many differing views of what Christ was like
and the fact that Pasolini's view doesn't happen to correspond with mine (although it comes closer than some) does not worry me in the slightest. There is a tendency in some to believe that the dirtier and grittier you depict something the nearer it becomes to reality. Unfortunately, in his depiction of First century Israel Pasolini is probably further away from reality than any Hollywood epic. In this film everybody seems to be scrabbling among the ruins and even Herod's Temple is a ruin when it was actually a building of great splendour still under construction in Jesus's time. It is all very well for Pasolini to base his film strictly on St. Matthew's Gospel but the film gives no sense of the Jewish backround either of the subject or of that particular Gospel (the most Jewish of the four). If a sense of realism was Pasolini's aim I feel that the casting of non-professionals works against this intent. Rossellini, Visconti and the other Italian neo-realists used non-professionals in their films for a purpose when depicting contemporary subjects and it worked in giving a sense of documentary realism. All Pasolini achieves (for me at least) is a lot of Italian peasants with bad teeth standing around in rags looking awkward. Like most biblical films Pasolini stumble on the depiction of the Resurrection - although one can hardly blame any director for that - and he veers sharply away from his avowed source. But there were things in the film I liked such as the early scenes with the young Virgin Mary (much more successful than the later scenes with Mama Pasolini as the aged Mary) and Joseph but they are few. As I have said, I don't doubt for a second Pasolini's sincerity
only his methods. It remains, however, a film that should be seen. Rating ***