The Gospel According to St. Matthew, directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, is exactly what it says on the tin; it is a transliteration (in Italian) of the Gospel of Matthew, the story of Jesus’ rise to prominence and his crucifixion) onto the silver screen, pretty much exactly as is. There is no glorification of Jesus or gritty reimagining as in The Passion of the Christ or The Last Temptation of Christ; it is instead treated as merely the teachings of a determined and righteous man, a reverent retelling of one of the oldest and most central stories of the Christian faith. The black and white cinematography helps this image, as does the often silent sound track and the orchestral musical score.
The film is very minimalist, almost stiflingly so, and what can generously be called the action sequences are few and far between the empty grasslands of the over two-hour running time. I found the cinematography to be somewhat lacking (though it may have been intentional, as the film takes a number of pages from the book of Italian neorealism), but the composition of the shots was very nice. The pacing of the film was personally my biggest problem with it, though I can’t really call it a fault. It is extremely deliberate with its pacing, taking its time with each scene and each shot to let the effect sink in before moving on to whatever’s next. To most, this basically means the film is very slow, but to merely call it slow is ignoring the intention behind the film, to which the pacing actually succeeds at.
Random aside: the guy who plays Joseph bears a remarkable resemblance to Jack Nicholson. I did a double take the first time I saw him.
All in all, this film is every bit the film it needed to be, but that doesn’t mean it will be entertaining to the vast majority of moviegoers. Indeed, I find it hard to believe any but the most fervent film lovers and Bible students will come to appreciate this one for what it really does. Not to say this is an elitist film, but it is definitely of a different cut than your average slice of meat. The film allows you to form your own opinions on the material; what is holy work and what is merely the tale of a great man, and in this is where the film succeeds.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10