Friday, March 16, 2012

The Last Temptation of Christ

 "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free." is engraved on Kazantzakis tombstone -kind of, anyways, as it's written in its original language, Greek. Nikos Kazantzakis was a Greek writer and philosopher (και ένα τι αμπελοφιλόσοφος); he was inventing new words, he had an inimitable writing style, lively, rich in imagery and substance, filled with realistic and deep characterisation, albeit his many adaptations for the big and the small screen. 

He was a great thinker -he was even nominated for a Nobel Prize, which he lost to Albert Camus, who later said that Kazantzakis was worth the prize "a hundred times more" than him. I grew up reading his inspiring books; the only thing I have to reproach him with is that no matter how much he tried to convince himself, and everyone else, he was an atheist, he was actually a deeply religious person, quite attached to Christianity and pure Christian suffering. As a matter of fact, when the Greek Church -which is totally out of context, as usual- condemned his work he replied: "You gave me a curse, Holy fathers, I give you a blessing: may your conscience be as clear as mine and may you be as moral and religious as me". Consequently, the Roman Catholic Church included his book The Last Temptation of Christ the Index of Prohibited Books. I guess they don't know at the Vatican that they only boost sales, whenever they do that, poor things.

Let's expand now on the book adaptation on the big screen, made by Martin Scorsese, which was banned from certain cinemas and had a lot of negative publicity from ardent Christian groups, just like the book itself. This did not hinder it from being a great film, naturally. The Last Temptation of Christ  was a project kept in deep drawers for years. Scorsese was on the verge of depression that he could not take it off the ground, because of its tricky subject matter. But, when he did...

The skies opened up in half and it started raining frogs...noooo, no, that's a scene from Magnolia. Or is it from the Bible? Uhm, both. The skies did not move a bit when the film was out, the controversy was limited to the less free-spirited earth. The fact that the son of God was depicted as a human, with anger and fear and temptations dancing in front of his eyes and pestering him exasperated many people, apparently, although I don't really get their frustration. The film is unbelievably realistic and the viewers can feel great compassion with the human side of Jesus -an excellent performance by a young Willem Dafoe. Which is the next hot thing: not only the script based on Kazantakis book is very well-written, but the whole team did an astounding job here. Excellent cinematography -we feel the fierce Moroccan sun in our faces, great performances by Dafoe, then a red and curly-haired (haha) Harvey Keitel as a very loyal Judas and an equally convincing Mary Magdalene by Barbara Hershley, a role that won her a Golden Globe nomination.

The last temptation references a fantasy Jesus had while hanging on the cross, a fantasy of a simple life as a free man and not as the son of God, marrying,  having kids and all the rest. It's in fact a very profound and moving part -I tended to like the film more after this and till the end, than before in fact. The guardian angel kiddo is very cute and peaceful, even if it's sent from satanic powers to lure Jesus away from his duty. Music is awesome and very post-modern in a way -nothing you could actually associate with a Jesus movie. And you can see why, if I tell you that's it's written by Peter Gabriel and it even has Youssou n' Dour vocals here and there.

If you read my previous posts on Scorsese and his obsession with religious themes and spiritually-tormented heroes in his personal work, this film will make more sense to you. Otherwise, I guess you'll stay wondering how a director with such a background on mafiozi and other anti-heroes decided to take upon Jesus Christ himself; he would never have done it, I reckon, if Kazantzakis hadn't written the book in which Jesus is way different than the Gospels descriptions present him.

I won't spoil it for you, so I'll just leave it here. Don't miss this film, really. For the extra reason that you can see David Bowie as Pontius Pilate. The funny thing is, that this screening coincided with the Blu-Ray edition of the film on Tuesday, one that is director-approved, as Criterion notably mentions. Many extras, like commentary from Scorsese, Dafoe and the writers, interview with Peter Gabriel and more. The timing is great to catch up on some Scorsese indeed. I would still recommend the following cinema screening to the residents of Lux.

AGENDA: The Last Temptation of Christ, 20/3/12, 18.30, Cinematheque. More Info.


jam@Message in a Bottle said...

Nice site you got here. 2 thumbs up! cheers and more power always. ;-)

apapa said...

Great post. Totally agree with your 'reproach'. I can't believe I've only read the book. I wish I was in Lux to catch it on the big screen!