Pierre Gendron

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Jesus Of Montreal Review


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Father Leclerc (Gilles Pelletier), a forward-thinking priest at a diocese in Montreal, feels that his church's passion play has become tired. In the interest of reinvigorating it, he hires an impassioned, method-like actor named Daniel (Lothaire Bluteau) to shake things up a bit, and Daniel in turn assembles a cast of four others from among his friends and acquaintances. Together - the five quickly become thick as thieves, many of them sharing a cramped apartment - these new apostles re-imagine the Passion, drawing heavily on scientific and sociological, as well as ecclesiastical, sources, and the play becomes a citywide hit. But Father Leclerc now has reservations; haven't the young actors opened up the story of the Passion too radically? Under pressure from his superiors, he cancels the show. Meanwhile the cast members are changing, too; for instance, Mireille (Catherine Wilkening), who previously was doing commercials that emphasized her admittedly terrific ass, realizes that she was only being used, and through Daniel she has begun to realize her potential as a person. The actors all come to feel deeply committed to their creation, in some cases giving up their previous lives to spread the word. Daniel, who of course portrays Jesus, begins to feel that he is in fact undergoing persecution at the hands of the church. And why? His message, which he is anxious for everyone to hear, is after all a peaceful one...

Made in 1989 by French Canadian director Denys Arcand (The Barbarian Invasions), Jesus of Montreal was much honored at the time of its release, receiving the jurors' prize at Cannes and an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film. It's easy to see why. The premise - that a group of young, unconventional actors find themselves at odds with the established church when they investigate Christ's teachings - is a whopper, and Arcand pulls if off with some finesse; he never preaches and he refuses easy ironies. Jesus of Montreal delivers no facile moral lesson, but it never descends into simple church-bashing either. It is, rather, a little bit of both worlds; like The Barbarian Invasions, it's a social comedy, and it invites a little reflection, too.

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