Monday, October 1, 2012

Passionless: "Jesus of Montreal" (1990)

Lothaire Bluteau is a mousy actor who is drawn into a new version of the Passion play, the crucifixion of Christ.

The local priest wants to freshen it up a bit, and Bluteau brings in a small cast to reenact the scenes and play all the parts. In addition to two veteran actors, Bluteau brings on board Johanne-Marie Tremblay, who happens to be sleeping with the aforementioned priest. He also finds the absolutely gorgeous Catherine Wilkening, a Parisian model who uses her body in commercials to sell products.

Already the parallels between Bluteau and the actual Jesus Christ are hinted at, as the actor travels and assembles his "apostles."

The troupe rewrites the Passion, opening it up to include recent revisionist history, and the play is performed to an awestruck audience. Then the trouble begins. The priest did not want THAT kind of updating, complete with nudity and the suggestion that Jesus was the son of a Roman soldier, not God.

Careful, spoilers ahead! Bluteau attends an audition for a beer ad with Wilkening, and after seeing her humiliated in the name of a cheap beer, he destroys the television equipment. He is later arrested, while hanging on the cross in the play, and booked. His lawyer is not a criminal lawyer, but an entertainment lawyer who would love to further Bluteau's career. As secular forces begin to affect the play's cast, the troupe decides to give one last performance despite the priest's ban. In a rather silly fight, Bluteau is injured, and taken to a busy, cruel hospital named St. Mark's. He feels better, leaves, and with Tremblay and Wilkening, go to a subway station where he mutters incoherently and passes out again. This time, he is rushed to a Jewish hospital, where he expires. His organs are harvested, and his fellow actors decide to carry on an underground theater company in his name.

My main complaint here is not the obvious, that some film makers strayed from the Gospel to tell Jesus' story. It is the fact that the film makers try to equate theater with church, which have more differences than similiarities. I minored in Communication Arts in college, and appeared in my fair share of stage productions. I also appear in local television commercials. However, as Arcand takes a rather hammerheaded approach to theater as church, he forgets that church is a matter of faith and belief, not a matter of free speech. Taking the theater in Bluteau's name, where they will keep up his traditions, is nice, but what if the characters were cooks? Would the fellow cooks take up the deceased's recipes and name a fast food joint after him? One can argue that church can be theatrical, but that cannot be reversed to mean the theater is church.

The entire film shut itself off to the FAITH of Christianity. The priest dismisses his flock as people who cannot afford psychoanalysis, so they confess their sins to him instead. This might be true for some, but definitely not for all, but you would not know that here. I once read an interesting statement about faith: "Truth is stranger than reason." This film will not convince the faithful to lose their beliefs. It is better when it shows the crass commercialism and emptiness of many people's lives. Seeing the critics say the same things after the performances of two entirely different plays spoke more than the priest's obvious "people are gullible" scene. He wants the Passion play changed because of pressure from higher up in the church bureaucracy, not because it defiles his beliefs.

The idea that Bluteau's organ donation goes to heal the sick, everybody now- "just like Jesus" is interesting, as is Bluteau's reception at the Christian hospital as opposed to the Jewish hospital.

I liked the cast and direction, but the film's avoidance of the one glaring issue here- faith- is something I just cannot overcome. (* * *) out of five stars.