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The Passion Play (1903)

La vie et la passion de Jésus Christ (original title)
The story of Jesus Christ from the proclamation of his Nativity to his crucifixion. Impressive scenes and dynamism of the actors prelude to the Italian colossal movies of the silent period.


Lucien Nonguet (co-director), Ferdinand Zecca (co-director)

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Cast overview:
Madame Moreau Madame Moreau ... Virgin Mary
Monsieur Moreau Monsieur Moreau ... Joseph


1. THE ANNUNCIATION. The Angel of the Lord appears to Mary, announcing the birth of a child, which shall be called the "Son of God." 2. THE STRANGE STAR. Led by the light of the strange new star, the three wise men of the East journey to Bethlehem in search of the holy child, whose birth has been foretold to them. They are followed by a large retinue of servants and a train of camels, donkeys, sheep, etc., forming in all an impressive caravan. 3. THE ADORATION OF THE WISE MEN. The wise men and the shepherds enter the lowly stable and kneel at the feet of Mary, who holds in her arms the new-born babe. Joseph stands near and watches the touching scene. 4. FLIGHT INTO EGYPT. Through the lonely Egyptian desert Mary and Joseph flee to a place of safety to preserve the life of the infant Jesus. Arriving at the famous Sphinx, Mary finds shelter for the night, while Joseph collects wood for the fire. 5. JESUS AND THE DOCTORS. The doctors and sages are engaged in a learned discussion, when ... Written by Kleine Catalog

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Short | Biography | Drama







Release Date:

26 March 1904 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Life of Our Savior See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Pathé Frères See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Color (tinted and stencil colored)| Black and White

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Selected by the Vatican in the "religion" category of its list of 45 "great films." See more »


Featured in Historia del cine: Epoca muda (1983) See more »

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User Reviews

Beautifully made
2 February 2017 | by vvp_14See all my reviews

This is one of the earliest versions depicting the life of Christ. And what a film it is! It's partly colourised (but only parts of most frames). So you get a movie made over a hundred years ago hand coloured and 44 minutes long which is much longer than the average films of the time (1-5 minutes). This was made to last, you can tell - the effort it took to hand- colour hundreds of feet of film and shoot that length with so many decorations.

The opening scene - The Annunciation is clearly made in a setting inspired by the Italian Renaissance art, just like the Last Supper scene later in the film. And if you put yourself back in those days where film was just coming out of its embryonic state, as it were, people were used to seeing paintings, pictures and frescoes, and of course, those films were made to look like those paintings only moving, which was in a way a miracle of a painting coming alive. Static camera shots (there was no zooming or panning of camera at the time) only add to that effect. In this film, however, they used camera panning in two of the scenes.

As I mentioned, it's whopping 44 minutes long and the director managed to fit the events of entire life of Christ into it - from Annunciation to Ascension (Mel Gibson had 2 hours of running time and managed to fit only a quarter of the events - just teasing). So it is like a visual Bible reminiscent of those stained glass windows in cathedrals called the Poor Man's Bible made not only for beauty and inspiration but also for those who couldn't read (which was the vast majority of the population as books were rare and very expensive). So the film is also made of stand-alone parts or scenes, just like those windows. The other thing to mention is that it is made in a fashion of passion plays (hence the English name of the film). In good old days those were very common throughout Europe for many centuries wherein actors performed scenes from the life of Christ and saints in towns around the holy days. So, clearly the settings in this film look very much like open theatre stage decorations. However, the progress, it seems was made in shooting some open air scenes as well. They also used special effects - combined shots. Some are really incredible for the time, like the walking on water in the catching of fish scene or transfiguration scene or or the scene with lightning on Calvary. And so... the development in film-making continues...

The film runs at normal speed so there's no fast moving comic effect everyone is used to. And the actors face quite a difficult task: there was no speech possible as they were used to in theatre and had very limited use of facial expressions (there were no close-up camera shots at the time, although they made two here), so they only had to make use of their body language and arms, which looks a bit over the top at times. There are no title cards in the film apart from the scene titles, so the viewer is meant to know at least the basics of the four Gospels, which was, I'm sure, a lot more common back then than today. Enjoy, highly recommended.

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