Dir/scr: Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche. France. 2014. 99mins
Religion is put on hold for a while in this historical pageant and the story of the Crucifixion becomes a political parable about Jesus being sent to the cross not because of his teachings and miracles, but for being capable of fomenting and becoming the leader of an eventual rebellion that might disturb the Roman occupation of Judea. Not a terribly original approach, but a timely subject to delve into.
Without even one single charismatic personality around, no character stands out in his own right and the whole affair remains stuck on a theoretical level.
Shot in what purports to be a replica of the actual places that served as the background of the actual events, and spinning out some of the familiar tales, but never attempting to tell a fully coherent tale, this dry, minimalist version of the New Testament may well travel to some art houses in search of esoteric items, but with Arte France’s involvement in the production, is sure to get plenty of TV exposure.
Though titled The Story Of Judas (L’histoire de Judas), the character that has become the eternally infamous icon of betrayal never really occupies the front stage here and when he does (played by the director himself) he has nothing to reproach himself. He is a devoted, faithful follower of the Rabbi from Nazareth, a sort of composite picture of all his apostles. The thirty silver coins episode is never mentioned, neither is the fateful Last Supper, while the Crucifixion takes place off screen.
But then, to be quite fair, Ameur-Zaimeche is not interested in an actual plot, he seems to be keener on reviving incidents in their primitive settings that when put together show imperialist conquerors crushing idealist natives to prevent their becoming a risk for the security of the occupiers.
Not that the religious establishment is treated any better. Any deviation from the holy traditions is considered an attempt against its authority, any cunning ploy or unscrupulous device should be used to put such heresy down. And in doing so, these so-called Men of God are willingly lending a helping hand to the same Imperialists they claim to abhor.
Shot in spectacular barren desert landscapes, remarkably similar to the Judea Desert near Jerusalem but deprived of any sets that might give an idea of the historical city, with Biblical robes and togas - mostly tattered when not adorning the Roman conquerors - the script is bound to raise numerous objections for the liberal treatment of its characters and of its subject, all of them freely manipulated for the benefit of Ameur-Zaimeche’s dialectic approach.
Without even one single charismatic personality around, no character stands out in his own right and the whole affair remains stuck on a theoretical level. No wonder the most significant scene is the trial of Jesus Christ (Nabil Djedouani) at the end of which Christ is sent to his death in the best interests of the Roman Empire.
Production companies: Sarrazink Productions, Arte France
International sales: Sarrazink Productions, email@example.com
Producers: Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche, Remi Burah
Cinematography: Irina Lubtchansky
Edior: Gregoire Pontecaille
Production designer: Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche
Music: Rodolphe Burger
Main cast: Nabil Djedouani, Mohamed Aroussi, Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche, Marie Loustalot, Patricia Malvoisin, Eliott Khayat, Regis Laroche, Xavier Mussel, Roland Gervet, Nouari Nezzar