Eureka Entertainment // 1964 // 137 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // March 22nd, 2012
"He who is not with me, is against me."
It is the frequently understated nature of its storytelling that marks out The Gospel According To Matthew as something special. In sharp contrast to the more elaborate biblical productions that seem so commonplace (The Ten Commandments), this retelling of Christ's life, from birth to his crucifixion, is remarkably low-key, presented in a very matter-of-fact manner. This knowingly reserved approach results in a less crowd-pleasing, and sometimes less engaging picture -- most notably during its opening act. At times the film feels constrained by its 137-minute runtime, as it gives little time to key events and characters. King Herod is giving particularly short shrift, as is the killing of children, which he ordered. In fact, the entire birth of Christ almost seems like an afterthought, barely registering. This in turn leaves portions of the film with no real flow, as scenes and events collide into each other with no segue to bridge them.
Yet, despite these serious concerns, The Gospel According To Matthew is a truly remarkable film. There's something deeply personal about Pier Paolo Pasolini's approach, which at times almost feels like a documentary. Christ's meeting with Satan in the desert, his healing of lepers, or his feeding of the multitude are stripped of all the grandness one would normally associate with them, and presented in such a way that even non-believers should find Pasolini's film palatable.
This straightforward approach to storytelling extends to the visuals. Make no mistake: The Gospel According To Matthew is a handsome-looking film, but its beauty lies in its simplicity. Rejecting the extravagant sets of a Cecil B DeMille production, Pasolini instead utilizes the natural beauty of his native Italy, which in turn puts the focus on the story being told. This less flashy approach also highlights the work of the cast. Enrique Irazoqui, a Spanish student who met Pasolini at a political event, delivers a unique performance as Jesus Christ. Reading lines almost exclusively taken from scripture, Irazoqui's interpretation of Christ is burdened with the weight of expectation placed upon him; he rarely, if ever, offers up a smile. There's something a little darker, almost threatening, about this portrayal of Jesus, who is at his most powerful when he declares, "I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword."
Eureka gives The Gospel According To Matthew (Blu-ray) (Region B) an excellent 1.85:1 1080p transfer. The black-and-white picture is sharp, with an excellent level of detail and barely any signs of damage to the print. There is a fine layer of grain, with strong black levels. The mono soundtrack features clean dialogue, while the film's diverse score (which includes Bach), is used sparingly but effectively.
The screener sent for review contained a limited number of special features. A newsreel and selection of outtakes offer little reward, but "Sopralluoghi In Palestina" (translated as "Scouting in Palestine"), which clocks in at 54 minutes, is an excellent addition to this set. This documentary follows Pasolini as he scouts locations to film The Gospel According To Matthew, and offers a good insight into what it was the director was looking to achieve with his picture.
That Pasolini apparently considered himself an unbeliever is perhaps the very reason The Gospel According To Matthew lacks much of the romanticism one would normally associate with the retelling of Christ's life. In only his third full-length feature film as a director, Pasolini showed a remarkable ability to take epic moments and deliver them in a deeply personal manner, free of the hyperbole or bombast one would usually expect. Raw, surprisingly dark, yet filled with moments of great beauty, The Gospel According To Matthew is a stunning achievement.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Italian)
Running Time: 137 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated