Jesus of Montreal
Often featuring in Top 10 Canadian films of all time, Jesus of Montreal (1989) was directed by Denys Arcand, one of the most internationally acclaimed trio of Canadian filmmakers (the other two being David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan) and one of the most politically engaged voices in Canadian cinema. His films are mostly unique, bitingly ironic social commentaries on today’s world. Although Arcand earned his renown especially with his 1986 film, The Decline of the American Empire, a black satirical comedy drawing an explicit parallel between the decadence of ancient Rome and the decadence of today, and its 2003 equally witty sequel, The Barbarian Invasions, his Jesus of Montreal has a cult reputation among fans of Canadian cinematography as well as some of the devout. In his version of the Christ story, as the Canadian Encyclopedia claims, “Arcand has created a brilliantly witty allegory for a commercial age in which doubt is not merely conceived as an antithesis to faith; it is the permanent fact of our postmodern condition.”
The film is about a young actor, Daniel (Lothaire Bluteau, known from the film The Black Robe), who is hired to produce a passion play for one of Montreal’s churches. Instead of basing the play on the gospels per se, he decides to come up with his own reconstruction of the “historical Jesus”. His modernized retelling of the passion play inevitably challenges Christian dogma and offends the priests who hired him. The quietly charismatic Daniel, however, identifies himself with the character of Christ to such an extent that the line between the ancient narrative and the contemporary life in which he is deeply immersed becomes blurred. Facing temptation from servile critics and wealthy theatre agents, he rails against the commercialization of art and the dehumanization of his fellow actors. In a scene Daniel makes viewers think of Christ chasing the moneylenders from the temple.
Arcand’s Jesus of Montreal emphasizes Christ’s humanity at the expense of his deity depicting him as a revolutionary teacher of great charisma. In this respect, it diverges from the traditional Christian concept of Jesus. Despite that, it is a deeply spiritual film which manages to elicit reverence and inspire compassion.
Note: The film is going to be screened as part of Canadian Movie Nights on March 31, 2011, at 5.45 p.m. in Room G103. It is in French with English subtitles.