According to Matthew
Synopsis & Analysis
Following the descriptions given in the Gospel of St. Matthew, Pasolini's film depicts Jesus' confrontations with the Jewish religious authorities, his preaching of his message throughout Palestine, his bravery before the officials of the Roman government, and a number of other events from his life. By emphasizing in all these depictions Jesus' resolve, composure, and sternness, the director succeeds in arousing, throughout the film's duration, a strong sense of his protagonist's heroic bravery and dynamism. The Gospel According to Matthew is, consequently, a powerful evocation of the life of an important religious figure and can be enjoyed by believers and non-believers alike.
The director makes good use of the gospels, which provide most, if not all, of the lines spoken by the character of Jesus, and leaves intact and unsanitized the harshness of much of their message. Some viewers may as a consequence find aspects of Jesus' teachings somewhat frightening, as I did myself. When a number of his more rigorous dogmas, especially the exclusivist dictate that only those who believe in Christ have hope, are heard as spoken dialogue, rather than as words printed on a page, their impact is much greater, whether it is more disturbing or more inspiring.
Whatever the viewer's reaction to Jesus' message, as it is given in the movie, it is more than likely that he will be honestly impressed with the considerable skill Pasolini displays as a film maker in The Gospel According to Matthew. The movie never drags, and yet the various incidents depicted are never rushed. The film's locations are well chosen, being harsh, austere, or beautiful as is appropriate. The director's staging of each scene is also to be commended. He manages to elicit the appropriate emotion at the appropriate time, whether that emotion is sympathy, courage, or awe. While Pasolini may not show in The Gospel According to Matthew the brilliance he would in his later films, he does demonstrate real talent and sensitivity.
In fact, I will even concede that, while I am not an admirer of Neorealism, and The Gospel According to Matthew is influenced by that movement, especially in the director's use of non-professional actors, these Neorealist elements do not detract from the quality of the film. Enrique Irazoqui's performance as Jesus is excellent. He brings an intensity and severity to the role that is very much in accord with the Jesus portrayed in numerous passages of the gospels. Margherita Caruso, who plays Mary as a young women, is likewise an inspired choice. Although she does so little I cannot praise her for her acting, she has a truly remarkable presence, combining serenity, holiness, and innocence. Most of the other performers also acquit themselves well and bring to their characters whatever qualities happen to be appropriate.
The film, unfortunately, is not without its faults. The depiction of the Massacre of the Innocents is so poorly done as to be comical, which clearly was not Pasolini's intention. The score, which draws on a variety of genres of Christian religious music is, by itself, beautiful, but does not complement the film. The juxtaposition of disparate musical traditions with one another, and with the harsh world being visually depicted, diminishes the emotive effect of much of the movie. While these faults do detract from the quality of the film, The Gospel According to Matthew remains an impressive achievement. It is certainly worth watching.
Review by Keith Allen
Allen. All rights reserved.