Sunday, February 29, 2004

More from me on The Passion
Rather than be verbose I wanted the poster and my two-word recommendation below to say it all, but Samer al-Batal has asked for a review so here is one.

Though I went with a large group from two churches - one Roman Catholic and largely 'charismatic' and the other black evangelical Protestant - I didn't see or hear any emotional reactions in the cinema, but then again I sat far in front.

About the only technical criticisms I can think of are that people in the eastern Roman Empire, especially those with different native languages, would have talked to each other in Greek and probably not Latin and as far as I know Franco Zefferelli got the carrying of the cross right - chances are a weakened prisoner only could carry the crossbeam. Where was the Greek on the sign? And to give Martin Scorsese some passing credit, the actual crucifixion may really have looked more like he depicted it, with the body and crossbeam not that far off the ground. (Aside: I agree this probably will be, and deserve to be, far more successful commercially than Scorsese's film.) Mel Gibson chose the iconic form of the crucifix recognized worldwide* - OK dramatic licence. He also chose that route with the placing of the nails - all know today that unless the victim were tied down all through the ordeal, the nails would have gone through the wrists and not the palms. (Here I disagree with Roger Ebert. Except for the much-commented-upon violence, much of the movie is like holy cards come to life, just like older movies.)

The violence was entirely necessary to do justice to the story.

I'm no biblical scholar but think it's faithful to the gospels. I understand the extra dialogue was taken from the writings of the Roman Catholic mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich (worth reading from what little I've read) - some of it did enrich the scenes, other times it seemed a little stilted but was fine and certainly orthodox.

While one might question the use of Latin here, it was wonderful to hear it spoken, often by Italian actors, giving it a natural sound, as though it were a living language and found that hearing it first and only resorting to the subtitles afterwards I could understand it fairly well. The proper church pronunciation is fine too and again brings it back to life: no-one really knows how the Romans talked. (Please, not the ugly pronunciation of classics teachers.)

(Here Samer, a native Arabic speaker from Syria, nitpicks Jim Caviezel's pronunciation of Aramaic.)

Hristo Shopov deserves a supporting-actor award as Pilate. While it's possible he and the Jews talked to each other in Aramaic as he'd been stationed in their land long enough to learn the lingo, I think it more likely they did in Greek.

The woman as an androgynous Satan was a nice touch, as were the special-effects demons. Having the latter take over little boys to taunt Judas was brilliant - I'm sure such really happens though usually less graphically. Herod the mascara'd fat swinger, obviously a puppet king while Pilate really was in charge, worked well too - he was the closest thing to comic relief in the story without distracting from the overall serious message. From him and his court to the Romans to the Jews, Gibson gives you a panorama of the world God-become-man was suffering to save.

Even in character, Monica Bellucci is attractive to the point of distraction but that fits the story, doesn't it?

I thought I could trust a traditionalist with this material and was proved right.

Did Muslims and atheists convert during the filming? I wouldn't be surprised.

My Lord and my God.

Once again: see it.

*Incidentally his production company is called Icon Productions and has an eye and the nose of the Russian icon of Our Lady of Vladimir for a logo.

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