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The second in a series of historical films begun by Roberto Rossellini in the late 1960's was this sublime movie for Italian television which traces the spread of Christianity in the thirty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, according to the accounts of Luke. Most of the first part deals with the successes and failures of Peter in spreading the good news of Jesus and presents an almost documentary view of the first Christian community, the trials before the Sanhedrin, the martyrdom of Philip and Stephen. Most of the second half of this five-hour+ film follows Paul from his conversion en route to Damascus, his work with Barnabas in Antioch of Syria, his debates on the old law versus the new, his arrest. The film ends with his imprisonment in Rome. ACTS OF THE APOSTLES is both a monumental cinematic achievement and a profound inquiry into the foundations of Christian faith. Rossellini's sharp eye for historical context made him the ideal director of this rich material. More importantly, his patient delving into the mystery of faith is never superficial but always suffused with search and wonder, as it had been in FRANCIS, GOD'S JESTER and would be in THE MESSIAH. Those unfamiliar with Rossellini's deliberate and unsensational style may take a while to get accustomed to it, but viewer patience and attention are always rewarded in the Rossellini historical films. Remarkably, one comes away from the film with a powerful sense of who Christ was. His presence fills the movie without his once being seen in it...as though he were just beyond the edges of the frame.
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