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Thinking of Jesus - and the Religious Right

Enrique Irazoqui as Pasolini's remarkable Christ.
The religious right should be blessed with an eternity – and I mean an eternity – of viewing Pier Paolo Pasolini's astonishing, beautiful, reverent and truly radical (as Jesus was, according to the gospels) The Gospel According To St Matthew, which I first saw when I was fourteen, was blown away by, and still - as a Buddhist for 21 years - think is a work that touches god, or whatever word you wish to use for truth, love, light and, the power to be compassionate and brave.

Pasolini was a Marxist, a self-proclaimed atheist (although this film makes that hard to believe, and he later talked about his "nostalgia for faith"), a homosexual, had been sentenced in Italy for blasphemy - yet accepted an invitation by Pope XXIII in 1962 for a dialogue with non-Catholic artists and wound up making the only film about Jesus that has ever truly moved me.

The music score alone is fantastic, surprising and unforgettable (it includes the Gloria from the Congolese Missa Luba, and Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child sung by the American blues/jazz/civil rights singer, Odetta).

The betrayal - the kiss.
Pasolini used mostly amateurs for his cast (including his mother and a thrilling and intensely powerful performance by Enrique Irazoqui, a 19 year old economics student from Spain, as Jesus) and shot his film in the Italian countryside because he thought (even in 1962!) that the "Holy Land" looked "too commercialized." 

Jesus blew through the world like a wild storm, divine in the way that we all are, and he overturned the moneychangers' tables, spoke what was regarded as "heresy" by the various authorities around him (way more radical than Obama!), spoke peace and love and beauty like the Buddha - and was nailed to a cross for his courage and his beliefs. (Because of the barbarous nature of this part of the story, we have yet to expose our seven year old son or our three year old daughter to notions of Jesus.)

The religious right is as close to Jesus as that rich man entering heaven or the camel passing through the eye of a needle (one of my favorite Jesus quotations - no one, to my knowledge, has ever focused on his irreverent sense of humor).

May they - the right (or wrong) - enjoy their eternity of cinema viewing. They can bone up on Pasolini, Jesus and St Matthew here at the ever-resourceful Wikipedia.

And if you've never seen the film, please do (only $9.69 currently on DVD at Amazon). It is a remarkable, beautiful, extraordinarily moving experience.

Pasolini's Gospel According to St. Matthew.


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