Jesus of Montreal (1989)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5

Original Title: Jésus de Montréal

/, 1989. , , , , , , , , . Screenplay by Denys Arcand. Cinematography by , . Produced by , , . Music by , , . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

The struggle of art versus commerce mirrors the doubts about life and religion that nag at the human soul in this constantly challenging world, themes that are beautifully wrought in direct and elegant ways in Denys Arcand’s masterpiece.

is marvelous as an actor who has returned to Montreal after wandering the world in search of inspiration, once a promising graduate of his acting school who never pursued the rise to fame that his colleagues did. He has been asked by the priest at a Catholic Church to rejuvenate the Passion Play that has been performed outside the cathedral’s shrine for forty years, and whose script has grown a bit stale, a project he readily signs up for despite its not exactly being a prestigious gig in the city’s theatre community.

Bluteau assembles a cast of actors from unconventional sources, one working in a soup kitchen, others dubbing artists for pornographic films and another a perfume model, and they workshop a script whose end result we see gloriously performed, in which the story of Christ’s mission, death and resurrection are contextualized within narration that involves academically researched historical and cultural details.

The result turns the city’s art scene on its ear while the church itself is incensed and tries to shut it down, but the performers, who have until now felt disreputable and unworthy, are bolstered by their work and the effect it has on audiences as well as themselves. Bluteau in particular has become inspired by his role and begins to apply it in regular life, so that when co-star is made to strip at an audition for a cheesy beer commercial, he reacts by unleashing a righteous fury on the soulless executives behind the table, and when he appears in court before a judge to answer for his actions, brings a sense of wisdom and humility to his testimony.

From there Arcand weaves in concerns about bureaucracy in art (particularly in the morass of government-funded art in Canada), the central position of religion in Quebec society and the survival of artists who must navigate the needs of their dreams, inspirations, wallets and stomachs: naturally, the road on which they are traveling is not heading anywhere happy or good.

The intertext of the story of Christ is treated with enough subtle humor so that the on-the-nose parallels never feel laboured or trite, Arcand takes Christianity’s central tenets that were meant to be profound in their simplicity (before being convoluted by politics and history) and expresses them in just as stripped-down yet significant a manner.

Solid direction, gorgeous performances and rich and vibrant characters that you fall easily in love with make for a film that nourishes the heart and the soul.

Academy Award Nomination: Best Foreign Language Film

Golden Globe Award Nomination: Best Foreign Language Film

Cannes Film Festival Award: Jury Prize

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