Apr 7, 2009

12th April 2009 ; Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel according to St.Mathew

The Gospel According to 
St. Matthew
A film by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Country : Italy
Year: 1964
Run time: 134 min
12th April 2009; 5.45 pm
Ashwin Hospital Auditorium
Call: 94430 39630

Pier Paolo Pasolini was stuck in St. Francis' hometown of Assisi. He had come there in 1962 to attend a seminar at a Franciscan monastery. Although it was well known that Pasolini was an atheist, a Marxist and a homosexual, he had accepted the invitation after Pope John XXIII called for a new dialogue with non-Catholic artists. 
Now the streets were jammed because the pope was in town, and Pasolini waited in his hotel room. He found a copy of the Gospels, and "read them straight through." The notion of basing a film on one of them, he wrote, "threw in the shade all the other ideas for work I had in my head." The result was his film "The Gospel According to St. Matthew" (1964), which was filmed mostly in the poor, desolate Italian district of Basilicata, and its capital city, Matera. (Forty years later, Mel Gibson would film "The Passion of the Christ" on the very same locations.)
Pasolini's is one of the most effective films on a religious theme, perhaps because it was made by a nonbeliever who did not preach, glorify, underline, sentimentalize or romanticize his famous story, but tried his best to simply record it.
"The Gospel According to St. Matthew," was made in the spirit of Italian neo-realism, which believed that ordinary people, not actors, could best embody characters -- not every character, but the one they were born to play. Pasolini's Christ is Enrique Irazoqui, a Spanish economics student who arrived to talk to him about his work. For his other roles, Pasolini cast local peasants, shopkeepers, factory workers, truck drivers. For Mary at the time of the Crucifixion, he cast his own mother.
Whether these actors could handle the dialogue was beside the point. Pasolini decided to shoot without a screenplay, following Matthew page by page and compressing only as much as necessary to give the film an acceptable running time. Every word of dialogue is from Matthew. 
Like most of Jewish men of his time, Jesus he wears his hair short -- none of the flowing locks of holy cards. He wears a dark, hooded robe so that his face is often in shadow. He is unshaven but not bearded.His personal style is sometimes gentle, as during the Sermon on the Mount, but more often he speaks with a righteous anger, like a union organizer or a war protester. His debating style, true to Matthew, is to answer a question with a question, a parable, or dismissive scorn. His words are clearly a radical rebuke of his society, its materialism, and the way it values the rich and powerful over the weak and poor. 
The crucifixion is entirely lacking in the violence of the Gibson version. It is almost underplayed, and we note that for much of the way to Calvary, the cross is carried only by Simon, while Jesus walks behind it. There is a crown of thorns, but only a few drops of blood. Yet this version is not softened and dramatized in the style of Hollywood's biblical epics; in its harsh realism, it seems matter-of-fact about a cruel death.

The film, in black and white, is told with stark simplicity. 

(Source: Roger Ebert)

Pier Paolo Pasolini

Pasolini was born  in 1922, in Bologna, traditionally one of the most leftist of Italian cities. He was the son of a lieutenant of the Italian Army, Carlo Alberto 

Outside Italy Pasolini is usually remembered as one of the most significant of the directors who emerged in the second wave of Italian postwar cinema in the early 1960s but, within Italy itself, Pasolini was always much more than just a distinctive and innovative filmmaker. By the time he came to make his first film, Accattone, in 1961, he had already published numerous collections of poetry, two highly-acclaimed novels, had collaborated widely in cultural-literary journals and firmly established himself as one of Italy's leading writer-intellectuals. In the 15 years that followed, before being brutally murdered in 1975 — and always inspired by what he himself called "a desperate vitality" and a “love of Reality” — he made a dozen feature films and half a dozen shorts, wrote, translated and sometimes directed theatrical works, published several further collections of poetry, two volumes of critical essays, painted some 40 canvases and, through his numerous articles in journals and his caustic columns in daily newspapers, became the loudest dissenting voice in Italian political and cultural debate. Intensely passionate and iconoclastic, often paradoxical and contradictory, Pasolini was almost certainly, as Zygmunt Baranski has written in a recent critical reappraisal, Italy's major post-war intellectual.

As an established poet and writer, Pasolini came to embrace cinema above all as an alternative form of self-expression, equal in potential to writing itself. In fact, in the film theory that he would develop from the mid-1960s onward, Pasolini would characterise cinema precisely as a writing with reality, a writing that would yield what he called a "cinema of poetry" the more the filmmaker was able to stylistically manipulate it for the purposes of self-expression.  But self-expression, for Pasolini, was never merely a matter of aesthetics but always opened onto the social and political. In fact perhaps more than any other artist-intellectual in recent Italian history, Pasolini felt completely and personally co-opted by the massive social, economic and cultural developments that were profoundly transforming Italy during this time so that his films, as with everything else he wrote or said, became always, at some level, personal responses to, and ways of intervening in, that reality. His cinema was thus always to be a blend of the lyrical and the political, the poetic and the ideological, passion and analysis.

Pasolini was brutally murdered on November 2, 1975. 
(Source: Sences Of Cinema )

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