Review of Jesus of Montreal (1989)

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By Christine Iannicelli

As an undergraduate, I took a course examining the portrayal of Jesus in film.  One of the most unique films we viewed was the 1989 foreign film Jesus of Montreal.  It tells the tale of five French Canadian actors who are tasked with putting on a Passion play that could reach the masses and bring some life into a previously stale production.  The play is praised by the public, but scrutinized by Church officials for some of its controversial choices.  Along the way, the actors learn lessons of friendship, morality, and sacrifice.  Ultimately, their lives start to become shaped by the characters they’re playing, with uplifting and devastating results.

The central character of the film is Daniel, who is portraying Christ, and his transformation is the most evident of all.  Jesus throwing the moneylenders out of the temple, creating a community of peers around him that support his vision, and having the courage to stand firm despite authority figures trying to silence him, are all present in Daniel’s life.  Daniel’s fellow actors include a Mary Magdalene figure “selling her body” for her modeling career, a motherly figure who welcomes all into her home, and two aspiring male actors.  They lend a nice support network for Daniel and are changed for the better by knowing him.  The actor playing Daniel is intense and very talented, but I actually enjoyed the supporting characters more. Their subtle acting style allowed them to bring their characters to life in a way that felt more natural.  I wish we could have learned a bit more about their back stories and futures.

All in all, Jesus of Montreal is a film that attempts to shine a light on many different issues besides religion, including the drive for creative expression and the commercialization of art.  Some scenes confused me while others made me laugh.  The ending made me sad.  Still, it’s an interesting film worth exploring.  Available to check out now in the Gabriele Library.

Favorite Quotes:

“Mysterious hope, that makes life bearable, lost in a bewildering universe…”

“Life is really very simple. It just seems overwhelming when you think only of yourself.  If you forget yourself and ask how to help others, life becomes perfectly simple.”

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