Jesus of Montreal

Director: Denys Arcand

1989. Colour. Dolby stereo. 119 minutes.

Following the success of The Decline of the American Empire, Denys Arcand made this more ambitious and expensive satirical comedy about a group of Montreal theatre people who overhaul the traditional Passion play and in the process find themselves living out experiences that parallel the life of Jesus and his followers. The central thesis-that the teachings of Christ would appear radical and subversive if taken literally and applied to the modern world-is merely a starting point for Arcand, who is clearly more interested in examining the way we live now than challenging any religious beliefs.
Commissioned by a priest to modernise the annual church play, radical theatre director and actor Daniel (Lothaire Bluteau) rewrites the text to incorporate the latest historical information about the life of Christ. The play is a major success with audiences and critics, but the church authorities are reluctant to upset the establishment and ban the production. However, for the actors the play has taken on a life of its own and they continue with the project regardless of the consequences. In a sense, the film is as much about the power of theatre and performance as about matters theological. Arcand has fun with the religious parallels but doesn’t push them too far. He applies his considerable wit and skill with actors to explore what might happen if the real spirit of Jesus were to walk among us in these materialistic times.

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