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Il messia (1975)

The story of the life of Jesus Christ.



, (French adaptation) | 1 more credit »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Pier Maria Rossi ...
Mita Ungaro ...
Carlos de Carvalho ...
John the Baptist
Fausto Di Bella ...
Antonella Fasano ...
Mary Magdalene
Pontius Pilate
Toni Ucci ...
Herod Antipas
Vittorio Caprioli ...
Herod the Great
Flora Carabella ...
Raouf Ben Amor ...
Luis Suárez ...
Hedi Zoughlami ...
Simon Peter
Renato Montalbano ...


The story of the life of Jesus Christ.

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Release Date:

18 February 1976 (France)  »

Also Known As:

The Messiah  »

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Politics and the Messiah
8 November 2017 | by See all my reviews

I do not know if I am delirious, but living in a country that has an enclave called the Vatican (in a certain way, a spiritual "Canal Zone", as the area under US control within Panamá) must predispose Italian artists: perhaps it leads the most pious to exalt Catholicism, while the most progressive maybe take a more critical stance towards this ecclesiastical-state enterprise within their country. I find quite curious that two Italian non-believers and filmmakers, one Marxist and the other atheist, made two of the most interesting films I have seen about the figure of Jesus of Nazareth. First, Pier Paolo Pasolini, released in 1964 «The Gospel According to Matthew», in the middle of a controversy that ended in praise; and the other, Roberto Rossellini presented «The Messia» in 1975 with less luck, to the point that the free circulation of the product had to wait almost 30 years to be (marginally) distributed. «The Messiah» is long, Brechtian, austere and intelligent; it dispenses with many biblical passages in which David W. Griffith, Miguel Morayta, Nicholas Ray, George Stevens, Franco Zeffirelli, Martin Scorsese or Mel Gibson delighted in their (kind of frivolous) versions of the Nazarene's immolation; and it introduces the story in an ingenious way: the film starts with a synthesis of the history of the Jewish people, from their arrival to the "promised land", after 40 years in the desert, to the selection of Saul as their first king, who led the common man to war, and proceeds with a description of the process of corruption to which the tribes came, which culminates in the moment when the expected Messiah appeared, to whom they ended up turning their backs and murdering. Rossellini does not shilly- shally: he cleverly exposes the political intrigue of Pharisees and Jewish priests, who try to preserve their power without disturbing the Roman invaders that control them. Jesus is young and strong, somewhat timid, he works wood, ploughs and gleans, has mystical outbursts, preaches with metaphors to death, and knows how to debate with logical reasoning. The most difficult part of the film is the sequence of the apostles' proselytizing campaign, as they preach the "new word", but that is the director's choice. Rossellini prefers that to show us instead the brutal and violent, in the best aesthetic line of a Greek tragedy, which showed not tortures, crimes or mutilations on stage. «The Messiah» saves us the lashes, the road to Golgotha, the long agony on the cross, and the miracles. The agenda of the film is another: it is to show the story of a man who confronted the corruption of power, who preached love as method, but who was paid with hatred by his own people. The way Rossellini does it is realistic, he shows thing in a way so natural and non-dramatized (often in long shots, with few cuts or none), that the images lose that false fervor of "saint cards" that has ruined so many films about Jesus. As an example, see the sequence of the last supper, from the moment Jesus washes the apostles' feet to Judas' departure. It is just that, a last meal, a sad farewell and the leader's final instructions, and not an ornate evocation of the first Eucharist. Roberto Rossellini was not an improvised filmmaker: he is the father of Italian neo- realism, a brilliant light in the history of cinema, whose trilogy of war («Rome, Open City», «Paisá» and «Germany, Year Zero») marked the birth of contemporary cinema. He was an innovator who took melodrama to the limit in his films with Ingrid Bergman, the love of his life, in «Stromboli, Land of God,» «Europe 51» or «Voyage to Italy,» and a visionary who joined the practice of television, a medium that he glimpsed as the audiovisual future of the planet. «The Messiah» is not a sole spiritual work in his oeuvre. It also includes the portrait of Francis of Assisi in his film «Francesco, Jester of God» (1950) and the TV mini-series «Acts of the Apostles» (1969). Atheists can also be sensitive to genuine religious people.

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