The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) IMDb


Seen in 2015.


Uncritical Biblical dramatization.


The majority of the New Testament Book of Matthew, retold seriously with the tools of arthouse fiction film and a unibrow. Some details, such as why John the Baptist is killed, go unexplained in the film, which assumes a Christian audience.


I get the impression that Pasolini wanted to stay true to the text, changing just a few details here and there, which is vaguely impressive. Some of Matthew’s words, including 5:17 and 10:34, conveniently forgotten or wilfully misinterpreted by many Christians, make it into the script. Jesus’s magic and changes of heart (e.g. against Peter, against the poor fig tree) are as abrupt and nonsensical as in the text. The general setting is impressive in its poverty and aesthetic asceticism, but of course it isn’t historically correct. The Roman costumes are terrible, they use the traditional (incorrect) cross, and loiter inexplicably beneath it. There is no attempt to show that others were jockeying for position as the prophet foretold by Isaiah, the way Jesus, himself perhaps a fiction, does openly in the text.

Instead of social or historical realism, Pasolini adapts to his budget, using too few extras for the crowds of 4000-5000 to be fed via miracle, and merely tries to put a liberation-theological spin on events. Matthew does not mention Jesus smiling so lovingly at the children. I was hoping for the director to evoke a numinous mood or at least use his imagination to bring the bizarre story to life, but in this regard the film is an almost complete failure. In foregrounding the text and preserving its massive contradictions, it makes me think of little but biblical exegesis and the falsehood of the religion.

fiction moving picture