If I’m watching films loaded with religious themes, it must be Lent again.
The story of JESUS OF MONTREAL is rather lovely in its simplicity. High above Montreal is the St-Joseph’s Oratory, where Fr. Leclerc hopes to revive an interpretation of The Passion Play he once wrote. From the glimpses we get of his original, we can sense that it’s terrible. Luckily for us, the priest gives creative control to his lead actor/director Daniel (Lothaire Bluteau), and the power to change what he feels needs changing. After assembling a ragtag cast made up of voiceover actors, commercial models, and other such unconventional choices, Daniel proceeds to present the Passion Play as a piece of avant-garde drama…complete with flourishes of heresy.
One of the things about this series that I’ve grown to love, is the subjectivity of everybody’s “blind spots”. Take this entry for example. I’d wager that there are several people reading this entry that haven’t even heard of this film, meaning the same people wonder what has landed it a place on my own list. As it happens, the film is something of a touchstone in the cannon of Canadian film. Wanna guess which Canadian filmgoer is tragically ill-versed in the vocabulary of Canadian film?
Come to think of it, is it even worse that I’ve never seen this film despite being a Canadian who was raised Catholic?
What I loved most about the film is the way it admits its own flimsiness early on, but then goes on to defy that flimsiness with cleverness and sly allusion. Much like the way Christ challenged the established teachings with deeper ideas of communion, so too does Daniel challenge the flock that gathers at St-Joseph’s (and the establishment that runs it) by embodying true selflessness. By seeing greater potential in his cast than the crummy jobs listed on their resume, he allows them a chance to rise above their past and be better. Not just better artists, but better people. Both in what he infuses into the play, and his attitude to his fellow-man, Daniel paints the legacy of Christ in equal parts role model and rock star. The result is a film that is just as much Pepsi Cola as it is Pasolini.
I’m often amused by paradoxes (or am I amused by paradoxi?). One such paradox that came to mind while watching JESUS OF MONTREAL, was the fact that the Passion play within the film proves too controversial for the Catholic diocese that supplies the stage, and yet the film itself ducked almost all controversy at the time. It’s difficult to speculate 25 years later, but perhaps all controversy was avoided because the ideas that are supposed to be subversive within the span of the story aren’t really all that subversive in the world we inhabit. Then again, perhaps the sort of vocal Christians that would cry “Blasphemy!” at such claims were too hoarse from yelling about THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST just one year earlier. Perhaps this time around these same Christians said “Screw it – say what you want”.
One wonders if the world would be a better place if more of the devout said “Screw it” more often. Isn’t there a massive amount of grey area between interpretation and insult? Isn’t the very nature if faith that it should be able to withstand scorn and subversion? That seems to be what Daniel’s play within this film is trying to get at – that the morals are supposed to help you find your way, not the nitty-gritty details. The fight the diocese puts up in the face of this supposed subversion garners results that are very un-Christian. One has to believe things would have gone much better if the faithful in this story were…well…more faithful.
About ten years ago, I took a trip by myself to Montreal, and without knowing its place within this iconic Canadian film, I found myself walking The Stations of The Cross at this oratory. In that moment, I was at a crossroads of my life and had no idea what my next decision would bring upon me. I didn’t pray while I was there, I don’t even think the idea crossed my mind. But as I walked from station to station and looked at the world through the lens of my camera, I felt an undeniable sense of peace. It was the sort of peace I used to feel at mass when I was a practising Catholic, and the sort of peace I believe every religion wants it’s followers to feel at their most devout.
That same feeling of peace is all over Daniel’s play, and Arcand’s film. It is not something one will find in historical record, nor one that one will find in dogma that tells followers the right way to worship and the true path to redemption. Instead, it’s something that one will find when they allow the spirit of what inspires them flow through them. And if there’s a personal spin put on it…or a little bit of blasphemy…so be it.
I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for March so far…
Amir watched THE PHILADELPHIA STORY
Nikhat watched BLUE VELVET
Beatrice watched CARRIE
Courtney Small watched THE SEARCHERS
Josh watched THE SMILING LIEUTENANT
Bob Turnbull watched ASHES AND DIAMONDS and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES
Abstew watched BLACK NARCISSUS
Elina watched RESERVOIR DOGS
Ruth watched ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN
Fisti watched SERGEANT YORK
Caitlin watched THE GRADUATE
Andina watched SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN
Jay Cluitt watched METROPOLIS
Mette watched AMERICAN HISTORY X
Chris watched THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH
Dani watched CITY LIGHTS
Dan Heaton watched THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS
Brittani Burnham watched SOME LIKE IT HOT
Will Kouf watched WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR?
Sean Kelly watched THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX
Mariah watched THX-1138
Steve Flores watched A ROOM WITH A VIEW
Christian Bordea watched DAYS OF HEAVEN
Shantanu Ghumare watched DIABOLIQUE
Rich Watson watched CHARLIE CHAN IN PARIS