Starring: Lothaire Bluteau, Catherine Wilkening, Robert Lepage
Director/Writer: Denys Arcand
Distributor: AV Channel Release
At this time of the year most church groups are deep in rehearsal for their annual Passion play and so it is for Montreal’s Catholic Sanctuary at the start of Canadian writer/director Denys Arcand’s wonderful film Jesus of Montreal. His story centres on a group of actors who update the old religious chestnut with some controversial new material sourced from recent archaeological digs in the Middle East suggesting, among other things, that Jesus was the bastard son of a Roman soldier and that the Virgin Mary was an unwed mother – controversial stuff for the conservative.
Daniel (Lothaire Bluteau) bears the load as Jesus, assembling his cast from soup kitchens and recording studios where they’re found doing menial voice-overs for porn flicks or hollow narrations for Big Bang documentaries. Mireille (Catherine Wilkening) is a Parisian model hawking her desirable bottom to advertising agencies and anyone else who will buy it. She sees her salvation in the provocative project while Rene (Robert Lepage) has reservations about partaking in a tragedy because they “sometimes bring bad luck”. He agrees on the proviso that he performs Hamlet’s famous soliloquy in the show – a seemingly ludicrous request that surprisingly finds fulfilment in the context of the avant guard play.
When the troupe eventually stages it as a progressive piece in the church grounds with the lights of Montreal sparkling far below they receive rave reviews from the critics and damnation from the authorities. Increasingly art begins to imitate life until Rene’s prophecy is fulfilled in a shocking coup de grace. It’s a masterful flourish of filmmaking from the man who brought us Love and Human Remains (1993) and Stardom (2000). It was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989 and was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar too. So if your own passion play needs a bit of livening up check it out for some divine inspiration…and beware the consequences of tragedy.