Pier Paolo Pasolini's black and white 1964 film The Gospel According to Saint Matthew is an Italian neorealist retelling of the story of Jesus Christ. The Italian neorealist style in film began with a focus on realism in details - De Sica's Bicycle Thieves is a famous example, and watching this film I was reminded of the sweet, gentle The Flowers of Saint Francis. Neorealism frquently focused on the poor or working class in believable situations, often using non-actors and real locations. It's a dynamic idea to use that way of filmmaking to approach this material. There are wrinkles in the clothing and faces. Dirt. Texture. It's a lived-in world, not a Hollywood Technicolor Cecil B. Demille extravaganza.
I was struck by Pasolini's decision to show The Sermon on the Mount section as a series of close-ups of Christ, stitched together in jump cuts, with a refutation of visual continuity. There are some unexpected pieces of music on the score — Pasolini mixes some classical pieces with Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night" (moaning, slide guitar) and Odetta performing "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child". But most of the time, Pasolini's camera simply observes in a matter-of-fact way, without commenting — perhaps mirroring the straightforward way the book of Matthew is written.
It's always good for us to be reminded that Jesus welcomed the poor and suffering, and much of his anger was directed at the hypocritical religious leaders of the day who cared more about the letter of the law than honoring God and offering grace to others. Pasolini's Jesus is perhaps more stern and less gentle than what is called for, but there are moments of genuine warmth when Jesus heals the sick or sees children playing.
In some moments, probably due to budget limitations, the storytelling is a bit unclear if you don't know from the Bible what's supposed to be happening. But overall the straightforward neorealism makes the supernatural all the more wondrous because it's happening in an ordinary world like ours. The Gospel According to Saint Matthew is moving in ways a more lush, obviously-expensive production wouldn't be. Everyone and everything and everywhere in the film — it all looks real. Even Christ isn't leading man handsome; he has a uni-brow and receding hairline. I'm always interested in fusing unlikely styles and subjects, and Pasolini's neorealist choices add freshness and understated gravitas to an age-old story.
I've posted a couple new pages of my black and white comic Flesh Machine at my website, michaelavolio.com. You can read the whole story so far there. New readers should start from the beginning to meet Lucy Olmos as she becomes frustrated with small town life.
If you'd like to join others in supporting my comics work, you can do that with a monthly pledge on Patreon at patreon.com/michaelavolio. It's easy to set up, and it helps a lot. The more money I make making comics, the more comics I can make!
Thanks for reading,