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I Can Only Imagine 


Il Vangelo Secundo Matteo

Billy writes:

Fascinating film. Does it trick the viewer?

What I loved about this film, is the ‘Jacob’s Ladder - approach’ that it seems to have taken. This film was made long before Jacob’s Ladder, and it is a little dis-respectful of me to even compare the Italian film with the Dutch TV series, but STILL!

Pasolini took the ancient, mythical, religious story (of the gospel), and found an alternative, an old world, to portray the story in, almost approaching as if it were a mystery play.

So the film clearly does not suggest to be ‘authentic’ (the thing so many films are so very keen to be- and are not), and Pasolini does not claim to present the gospel totally accurate either (whatever that would be). Some, more recent films, give the viewer (usually done through a voice-over) the COMPLETE TEXT of a particular gospel; these films can than claim to be ACCURATE (as well as AUTHENTIC). Why are these films trying so hard to have those labels? I guess they want to PROVE that Jesus is the savior, thinking this will bring in a rich harvest of believers…. These films are often financed by religious organizations (who are evangelizing). The other reason would have to be about money; the labels ‘authentic’ and ‘accurate’ are an invitation to the church audience, which in the USA, is a large crowd.  

Very refreshing that Pasolini choses a different route. He may have seen ‘King of Kings’ and possibly ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’; both film claim to be authentic etc. Big budget, big production, big everything. Pasolini does the opposite!


Pasolini understood that his film was to be ‘for the people, by the people’. He recognizes that many poor, peasant people in Italy (and elsewhere?) are people of faith; people who believe in Jesus and in the miraculous powers of Jesus. Pasolini was willing to come alongside these ordinary people, and re-assure tem in their faith. So, this film’s intent is to give us Jesus, as the savior, who fights the authorities (mostly the Jewish Temple bosses), along the lines of Pasolini’s desire to fight political authorities in his own time & place. 

The recognition of seeing Jesus through the believer’s eye, gives this film strength and direction. Watching the story of the film, you want to know what Jesus is going to do next. The film is so wonderfully uncluttered, you can’t help but be drawn in and wanting to join in. The emptiness of some of the scenery is profound.

On the down-side, we never see much of the corruption of the Pharisees, and that is a shame. When the Pharisee top-boss declares that they are going to kill Jesus, he says it so matter-of-fact, so relaxed, it doesn’t feels like there’s any corruption there. There is a lack of story-telling here; no meaning (killing an innocent man) comes to the fore. Nobody questions that either; it just happens, which works alright within this ‘old-world’. Things happen, and nobody questions it…

However, from here on we’re relying on people’s understanding of the gospel (while they watch this movie); otherwise, they would simply loose the plot at this point in time. And that I regret deeply. In the end, Pasolini doen’t care THAT MUCH about the (meaning of the) gospel story. 

So the storytelling is THIN in my estimation. We just get the bare bones of the drama; the conflict that sits behind the events that unfold is not revealed. This also means that the spiritual aspact op the story doesn’t open up. The Jesus this film shows us, doesn’t go any further that the young man who portrays him faithfully. Suddenly the Jesus character is alive again; we kind of expected that. He speaks a few more words; after that he might disappear in the sky (ascension) but before the film would attempt to show us something along these lines, it goes to dark- the film has ended. Ans we are left largely IN THE DARK. 

Still, the crowds that fill the frame, and the different groups we see, are all quite endearing. This really feels like a Mystery Play, performed by the people of the town. This beautiful, rough, old, somewhat fallen-apart TOWN in the middel of no-where, stands-in for Jerusalem. Perfect. All the scenes are done outside (exterior), again just like in a mystery play. It works a dream.

Large parts of the gospel text are left out (I think - I will spend some time checking on this); it feels like we’re given kind-of HIGH-LIGHTS of the Gospel, rather then the whole story. Several times, we’re led into a story, and before the action is finished we’ve suddenly moved on (for instance, the feeding of the 5000).

I very much enjoyed the re-colored version (via TUBI); it looked great. The music is interesting; Bach’s music obviously brilliant and deeply moving; I loved the gospel song: ‘Motherless Child’. But the sound is very rough; music cuts out regularly, and all kinds of other sound issues. This takes me to my first question: are we being tricked? If the answer is YES, then that would be a remarkable achievement, and an effective way of taking us into the world-of-this-story.

The film comes across as a really old movie, from the time when they we hardly able to make a movie. Because of all the short-comings (and cut-outs, color changes, a host of irregularities and technical problems), the film gives you this feeling of it being almost as old as the story it portrays. 

While it is not authentic, and that sets us free to simply enjoy the drama, the film pretends to be older, much older, than it actually is. That works a dream! Filmed, it seems, in a time where there were no professional actors, so the story is give us through all these ordinary people, peasants just like Jesus was a peasant. And clearly all these people CARE about the story; they love Jesus, and that’s why they’re in this film. It brings the whole film close to my heart, instantly. I’m endeared, impressed, want to go travel and meet these people; they’re so approachable, so wonderfully down-to-earth etc. 

Did Pasolini deliberately make this film look like it was from a much earlier time-frame (when film-making had hardly even begun). 

In any case, the ‘language of this film, through the eyes of all these unique peasant people, is the right language to tell us the gospel story through.

The same filmic language allows for symbolism, instead of naturalism; scenes are often cut short, which makes us dwell more on meaning rather than on the intense drama that the gospel story can also present. In that way, this film is more-or-less the total opposite to Mel Gibson’s The Passion. Wow, food for thought here!

I loved the beautiful, dark-hair angel young woman with her blue eyes (in this recolored version). She was wonderfully relaxed and effective in her messages. Great that she kept re-appearing; just the one angel doing all the work. Good story-telling.


Another unique thing about this film is how people often just stood-there, looking at each other. I could see them do this in their ‘real’ life; that was the kind of world these people were from. I’ve been to Spain, into the Picos Mountains where I’ve come across villages that felt like the world we were given here. Again, this sits well along the lines of the Mystery Play, as those are still done in England.

I learned that the part of the ‘older’ Mary, mother of Jesus, was given by Pasolini to his own mother. This (more or less) elderly woman, is the mother of a (more or less) teenage Jesus. She could easily have been the young man’s grand mother. I guess this kind of choice reflects on the whole approach of (making) this film. Pasolini has taken all kinds of liberties, and quite a few short-cuts, including in the casting. The top-pharisee (would that be Cajafas?) Is a man who can barely speak; his text has been limited indeed, to just a few words which he presents carefully, as in ‘trying hard not to mess-up’. 

The situation around Pilate is more or less the same. As a result the film has the feel of a pantomime; a lot of silence, and people kind-of staring at each other. Strange as this it, for communicating a story of intense conflict, it is also endearing in a way.

With Pasolini’s mother right in the middel of this film, I can’t help but think that this whole project was a family & friends (kind-of) holiday adventure. And that’s to bad at all! This film could well be a very personal experience, a coming-together of a bunch of local people who all love Jesus, and who re happy to present the story even while very few of them (none?) Have ever acted before (in their lives). They gave it their best!  


Immortal Beloved - with Gary Oldman as Beethoven

Perhaps I should watch it again, sometime, because my first time watching this film was such a BAD experience; what a disastrous film! Don't get me wrong, Gary Oldman is one of my favorite film actors, but the script of the film was -in my view- a TOTAL DISASTER!

The film did not give us a useful insight into Beethoven's life; loads of snap-shots; not a coherent piece of story telling of who this man was, what kind of childhood, what he was like as a young adult, and how he developed etc.  

The script never made me want to know who this 'immortal beloved' was. The angle the writer (who was also the director) took, was never of interest to me (the audience) and dominated the whole film.  Doing a film on Beethoven will not be easy, and an interesting angle to the story (telling) will be important, but this was certainly not it. Quite the opposite.

It must be possible to find an approach that allows for the audience to be drawn into Beethoven's genius, into his massive personal struggles, into his loneliness, into his career (as a musician), and ultimately into his world of music. In my view, 'Immortal Beloved' failed on most if not all those scores.

Irma la Douce - Jack Lemmon & Shirley McLane.


I totally loved this film when it first came out. Now, seeing it again, after all these years, it is still strong with a fabulous performance by Jack Lemmon. The film is slow and too long. Even after the story conflict has (mostly) been resolved, the film goes on and on...  (I think we saw the original director's cut which is indeed more then half an hour longer then the cinema version.)

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