Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 22, 2016 4:57 pm 
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Fragmentary and arbitrary and crabwise recounting of the last days of Jesus

Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, who was born in Algeria, has made films, admired for their seriousness and fine visuals, that range from Arab Paris ghetto to French folk tale; he already made a period, costume film in his 2011 Smuglers Songs, set in France in the eighteenth century. Here he plunges into a stage of the life of Jesus when his fame was growing and Judas (played by the director) was his closest disciple.

The Story of Judas is a radical, personal rewriting of the story of the last days of Jesus shot in Algeria using largely Arab actors. Some parts may give one a fresh outlook, but others feel amateurish and arbitrary. Ameur-Zaîmeche is striving for an offbeat, neorealistic feel to the action, somewhat in the manner of Pier Paolo Pasolini. But early scenes seem completely aimless and unfocused, if not downright silly. No scenes have true emotional resonance. In short, Pasolini's Gospel According to Matthew this is absolutely not. Some parts just seem like stalling for time while the filmmakers try to think up some dialogue.

Much emphasis is put on the casting of the money lenders out of the temple. Except that it's an open-air space, and what happens is that a lot of wooden cages of animals, presumably for sale, are opened and smashed up, turning the cleansing of the temple into a PETA demo. Later, Judas discovers a scribe has been painstakingly recording all the sermons and miracles of Jesus, and Judas sets out to destroy these records. Is this as if they were incriminating evidence to be used by the Roman authorities, perhaps? It's not at all clear. But another big scene consists of Judas tearing up documents and burning them.

Perhaps Ameur-Zaïmeche means to present Judas as the closest of Jesus' disciples, but this doesn't come through, mainly because the film hardly follows Jesus at all, except for an early scene of Judas carrying Jesue after his forty days in the desert, playing Saint Christopher. a zipped-through Last Supper, consisting of a few closeups and shots of food and wine. There is an oddball, mildly interesting sequence where Jesus is condemned by the Roman authorities, but there, Judas isn't even present. Pilate seems at the mercy of Jesus, who reads his mind and relives him a violent headache, then advises him to go on long walks.

The French critics spoke pretty highly of this film when it came out 8 April 2015, as indicarted by an AlloCiné press rating of 3.9 based on 19 reviews. But viewers, whose ratings came in at a terrible 2.4, pointed out that while a revisionist life of Jesus is allowable, it needs to be called that -- and above all to be less fragmentary and more plausible. See the detailed description of the film by the AlloCiné viewer who goes by the moniker "poet75," who calls the screenplay "calamitous." The more one examines details of the film, the more they seem absurd and, as an approach to the life of Jesus, unenlightening.

Story of Judas/Histoire de Judas, 99 mins., debuted at the Forum section of the Berlinale, winning the Jury Prize. It got raves at its 8 Apr. 2015 French release (AlloCiné press rating 3.9/19).

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