Review of Jesus of Montreal (1989)

Moving picture, 120 minutes

Seen in 2017.

A minor actor revises an annual Catholic passion play based on non-canonical myths and recent archaeology, while his own life comes to resemble the legend of Jesus.

Christian drama as written by an atheist, with a lot less comedy than Life of Brian (1979). The particular non-canonical myths are not well chosen. They amount to Protestantism spiced up with a bit of credulous conspiracy theory, including the myth of Yeshua ben Panthera. The lack of credibility intensifies with the extreme production values of the (main) play-within-the-play, and its interruption by Hamlet’s soliloquy. The result is surprisingly palatable, hitting that sweet spot between naïve proto-communism and paralytic self-pity that characterizes modern Christian zealotry. I like the security guard who tries to keep the whole spectacle on the level.

Surprisingly, the ending loses the comedic elements and continues to spiral off toward Brecht, including an incredible scene of some woman receiving Daniel’s eyeballs (an optic nerve splice?), ‘donated’ very suddenly by the consent of a colleague who barely knew the guy. Hard to see just why an atheist director would exaggerate a parallel with the mythology to that extent, unless he really thought of all serious actors as Jesus figures.

moving picture fiction