Four years after FROM THE MANGER TO THE CROSS, European film audiences were treated to a more elaborate cinematic version of the life of Christ via this prestigious but, surprisingly, little-known Italian production; personally, I have only learned about it a few months ago and got an unheralded preview while watching scenes from it being screened theatrically in Marco Bellocchio's Mussolini biopic VINCERE (2009)! Apart from the grandiose nature of the budget accorded it (just witness the sheer number of extras filling out the Wise Men's entourage!), what immediately strikes one here is the importance given (in terms of footage devoted) to Christ's pre-public life; apart from the famous Nativity and early childhood episodes (featuring a long-haired boy Jesus!), here we even have the adult Christ going back to Egypt and 'testing', as it were, his skills as an orator and miracle-maker on the natives (of both common and regal birth) under the shadow of their Sphinx-shaped pyramids! Curiously, liberties are also taken with the chronology of Jesus' ministry – with the Devil's temptation in the desert, for example, taking place before His Baptism!; oddly enough, the calling of the Apostles is not depicted per se: they are just absent in one scene and present in the next! The character of Judas is naturally given his space during the Passion segments but, what makes his scenes interesting, is that the figure of a horned devil thrice appears to him as a hallucination – when he betrays Jesus to the High Priests (goading him on), when he repents of his deed (mocking him) and when he hangs himself in desperation (inviting him to take his place in the infernal Hades which open up beneath his dangling corpse). Director Antamoro also acknowledges how these sacred events later served as inspiration for celebrated works of art like Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" and Michelangelo's "Pieta'"; ironically, some of his own handiwork had to be reshot by Enrico Guazzoni – the director of the seminal 1912 film version of QUO VADIS? (which I will be getting to presently) – when footage was ruined during the assembly stage! These and other legal setbacks meant that the film, which was begun in 1914, was not officially released until November 1916; this version of CHRISTUS (two other movies bearing the same title were also released in 1914 and 1919 but, presumably, these are all but lost now) was eventually restored by the founder of Titanus, Goffredo Lombardo (since his mother had portrayed the Virgin Mary in it – one of the film's early highlights is the scene at the temple where Mary faints as the shadow of the boy Jesus preaching forms the shape of a cross!), and shown at the 2000 Venice Film Festival. As mentioned earlier in my review of FROM THE MANGER TO THE CROSS, CHRISTUS takes care to depict also the events following the Passion i.e. the Resurrection, the "Doubting Thomas" episode and the Ascension even if, amusingly, the heavy stone barring the entrance to Jesus' tomb is made to fall smack onto the head of a sleeping Roman guard as He rises! Ultimately, however, the film's major flaw is to be found in the portrayal of Jesus himself (Alberto Pasquali) since I have yet to see a more passive and sullen-looking Christ!!
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