The Nativity Story

Not rated yet!
Director
Catherine Hardwicke
Runtime
1 h 41 min
Release Date
1 December 2006
Genres
Drama, History
Overview
Mary and Joseph make the hard journey to Bethlehem for a blessed event in this retelling of the Nativity story. This meticulously researched and visually lush adaptation of the biblical tale follows the pair on their arduous path to their arrival in a small village, where they find shelter in a quiet manger and Jesus is born.
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Crosswalk2
Cross Walk



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  • 12 Christian Movies as Good as I Can Only Imagine
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VJ Morton4
Right Wing Film Geek



(Reviewers' Site/Bio)
  • What Hath Mel Wrought, part 1
    NativityStoryHughes

    What Hath Mel Wrought, part 1

    THE NATIVITY STORY (Catherine Hardwicke, USA, 3)

    It would have been easy enough to ignore this movie or maybe enjoy its small favors or appreciate its (efforts at) piety if it had been made a few years ago. But we are now after THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, and are in an era when the phrase “Passion dollars” means something other than the 50-bucks you leave on the nightstand of the rent-by-the-hour motel. Every studio and his brother is launching a Religious Division or some or another Jesus project. But THE NATIVITY STORY has all the faults of “Contemporary Christian Cinema (Music)” — and without the excuses.

    This was not the $100,000 work of a bunch of inspired amateurs (in the best sense of both words) from a Georgia church. This was a major film with a $30 million budget, an Indiewood A-list director and cast, location shooting in Italy and Morocco, a premiere at the Vatican.

    And for what — to produce a rote Christmas pageant so lifeless, so lacking in dramatic juice that you come away more interested in the gossip about the child of Keisha Castle-Hughes (Mary) than about the child her character was carrying. This isn’t dispositive, but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that a religious film should leave you wanting to know more about the religion. After I saw Kim Ki-duk’s SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER … AND SPRING … well, I didn’t go shave my head and get fitted for saffron robes, but the film certainly made Buddhism “attractive,” in a certain sense. But THE NATIVITY STORY fails completely on that score — it’s a dramatically inert series of picture postcards, relying 100 percent on pre-programmed responses. It’s one thing to assume that the audience knows the basic story and accepts it as truth in order to take our emotions in new directions, as THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST does; it’s quite another to require the audience to provide those emotional responses too.

    This should be a Marian story, as she is the principal human protagonist. But Castle-Hughes plays the Blessed Virgin in a manner so blank-faced that you have to think she was either not directed at all or is trying to act “numbed.” The problem for the latter is that she has not been convincingly “shaken up” in the first place, which would have required either a more interesting conversation or a different sort of “presence” from the angel Gabriel, or a bitterer family quarrel. Give me Maia Morgenstern’s Mary from THE PASSION every second of every day.

    In fact, the whole movie is boringly low-key and conflict-free (i.e., no “drama” in the usual sense). It’s trying its durndest to be devout and uncontroversial, but that only makes its deadness on the screen comes off as offensive. Say what you like about Gibson again, but surely one of the lessons of the PASSION is that religious controversy sells, at least if it flows from real conviction. But hey, if what you want from movies is that they not use the filthy words they had in GONE WITH THE WIND and that they have a more moral “uplift” than SAW 3 (and some do) … then rush out and see this by all means.

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    December 11, 2006 - Posted by | Catherine Hardwicke, Religion in movies

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  • ♫ On the first day of The Exclusionary Offensive Holiday ♫
    (”The Nativity Story” is briefly mentioned in this.)
    KristKindlIslam

    ♫ On the first day of The Exclusionary Offensive Holiday ♫

    When Christians talk about a “War on Christmas,” THIS kind of crap is what we mean …

    CHICAGO (AP) — A public Christmas festival is no place for the Christmas story, the city says.
    Officials have asked organizers of a downtown Christmas festival, the German Christkindlmarket, to reconsider using a movie studio as a sponsor because it is worried ads for its film “The Nativity Story” might offend non-Christians.
    New Line Cinema, which said it was dropped, had planned to play a loop of the new film on televisions at the event.

    Now, let’s be crystal-clear what we’re talking about. We’re NOT talking about a permanent monument. We’re NOT even really talking about an act by the government itself. No. We’re talking about the government telling a private group the terms under which it has access to public space. (Maybe the German festival organizers should rename themselves the Ku Klux Klan — then they’ll get the ACLU to be solicitous of them.)

    Also, we’re NOT talking about legislation favoring one religion. We’re NOT even talking about prayers at a secular event like Memorial Day or a high-school graduation. No. We’re talking about a specifically religious holiday with a specifically religious meaning.

    And, finally, what is supposedly offensive is NOT someone yelling verses from Leviticus at the Gay Pride Parade or staging the Oberammergau Passion Play or playing the security tape from the bar where Borat and Mel Gibson tied on a few. We’re talking about showing a movie that is about *exactly* the event the festival is supposed to about (i.e., “Christkindl,” which I think is German for “Christ-child”¹).

    What this IS is a clear case. It is not a close call. Sure, the state hasn’t actually forbidden anything. Merely made its opinion known to the organizers. The term for this is “chill,” one that free-speech liberals understand quite well when the subject is, let’s say, libel law or restrictions on political speech or reporting.

    And for what end? … to de-religionize a private party’s actions with respect to a religious holiday. Like a St. Patrick’s Day with no reference to St. Patrick, or a Thanksgiving with no reference to the Pilgrims (although neither of those examples are actually THAT much beyond what has already gone on). It’s just knee-jerk burbling for anyone to say there is no war against Christmas, no attempt to cleanse Christianity from the public sphere, however successful. The degree of success this war is having or whether it’s a good or bad thing … those things we CAN debate meaningfully. But that there is a broad-based assault is not a serious topic any more.

    Here’s the question I immediately asked myself when I saw this story on the newswires.

    An executive vice president with New Line Cinema, Christina Kounelias … said she finds it hard to believe that non-Christians who attended something called Christkindlmarket would be surprised or offended by the presence of posters, brochures and other advertisements of the movie.
    “One would assume that if (people) were to go to Christkindlmarket, they’d know it is about Christmas,” she said.

    One would assume that. And in a sane world, one could. If you’re of such delicate sensibilities as to be offended by THE NATIVITY STORY, a real city official or jurist would laugh in your face, ask “what the colorful are you doing at an event called ‘Christ-Child Festival’,” and tell you to “get a frickin’ life.”

    But no. In these interesting times where even the dumbest and most paranoid and self-righteous have the right to become “ACLU clients,” such a response who invite municipal ruin. Government officials nationwide, based on how the courts have set up the incentive structures, are now well-trained to think doubleplusgood-thought: Christianity = “controversial”; other religions = “celebrate our diversity.”
    —————————————–
    UPDATE 1: Dom actually has the best analogy, better than the Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day ones I could come up with last night.

    That’s like holding a D-Day commemoration on June 6 and banning a poster for the movie “Saving Private Ryan” because it might offend pacifists.

    —————————————–
    UPDATE 2: Jeff in the comment field noted a fight over the divisive symbol of cemetery crosses in “Baghdad by the Bay” (Hey … them’s his words. He live there.)

    I note from the San Francisco Chronicle he linked to, the following lead.

    Scores of emotionally charged citizens praised and denounced Lafayette’s controversial display of stark white crosses during a City Council meeting Monday that filled every seat in the chamber and lasted more than 2 1/2 hours.

    As I say … “Christianity=controversial” … stated as a fact in a news story lead. Still, ya gotta love the fact that here’s one example of liberals finding crosses an acceptable thing to show in public space.
    —————————————–
    UPDATE 3: Here’s something from the same festival, taken by Amy Welborn when she was there in 2003.

    What jackanapery. Apparently, that’s NOT going to offend anyone. It’s just a celebration of our diversity, etc. As someone in Dom’s comment field said: I wonder why during cities’ observances of Ramadan, there are no ‘equal time” crosses and menorahs.
    ————————————————
    ¹ I think, but I’m not sure. I was too busy in grad-school studying Hegel’s “Zeitgeist” and Heidegger’s “Seinsvergessenheit” to get to the really difficult German translation issues like “Christkindl.”

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    November 27, 2006 - Posted by | Religion in society

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  • Against inclusiveness
    (”The Nativity Story” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    Against inclusiveness

    My expectations for THE NATIVITY are hereby lowered. From a commenter at Barbara’s (she was underwhelmed herself), here’s what the director said at the Vatican premiere.

    “There were some things he (Gibson) did that maybe were a little controversial. We wanted our film to be uniting and make the public see the similarities between religious instead of the differences.”

    — Director Catherine Hardwicke

    Sorry, but I prefer my religion true, which is to say sectarian (error has no rights, etc.). Further, why would anyone think that the Nativity story is a particularly good vehicle for ecumenism. If you take away Who this is … there’s nothing interesting here, except a generic tale of a family fleeing a nasty dictator or the birth of a (possibly) cute baby. Why should the Three Wise Men give gifts and pay homage to *this baby,* say, unless he’s distinguished from other babies in some unique way? What would the urgency be that *this baby* escape Herod’s wrath, etc.

    What’s so special here, in other words, if Christianity isn’t true in some privileged sense denied to other religions? And, in the words, of THE INCREDIBLES … if everyone’s special then nobody is. But if this baby is somehow different, then religions aren’t similar.

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    November 28, 2006 - Posted by | Catherine Hardwicke, Religion in movies

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  • A gelded orphan
    (”The Nativity Story” is briefly mentioned in this.)
    ChildrenLead

    A gelded orphan

    CHILDREN OF MEN (Alfonso Cuaron, Britain, 2006, 4)

    What a disappointment.

    There’s no doubt that this adaptation of P.D. James’ Christian dystopia is thrilling in pieces … particularly, the single-take escape as the camera goes into, out of, through and around a fleeing car. But by the time we got to the bravura closing scene (already dubbed “Fireman, Save My Child” by some wag), I was in such intellectual rebellion that I had long ago emotionally checked out of the film.

    What caused this intellectual rebellion is that Cuaron made the material incoherent by completely secularizing P.D. James’s themes and characters, and decoupling them from what concerned her. He soft-pedals her judgment of the contemporary culture of death in order to make a politically-correct presentist smirkfest against Bush, Guantanamo, immigration, fascist jackboots, etcetera, etcetera, et-bloody-cetera. P.D. James as rewritten by LULAC.

    Let me be explicit about one thing. It’s not that immigration might not be a valid topic for a movie, or even a liberal take on the subject.¹ But rather that it doesn’t belong in an adaptation of P.D. James’s CHILDREN OF MEN. In her plot (thanks, Matthew), immigration is actually encouraged (albeit on morally dubious terms) because of the labor shortage; there’s no widespread and deadly campaign against immigrants or the constant public exhortations against them that Cuaron imagines (and even if there were, **under these dystopic conditions,** why would they not be justified — lifeboat ethics and all).

    Then there are all the ways Cuaron secularizes James’s text — Julian is no longer a Christian, nor are the Fishes identified as such, Julian no longer carries the miraculous baby, the baby isn’t baptized, a Wiccan midwife is added, there’s no reading of the title Psalm from the CofE Book of Common Prayer, and religion itself is shifted to a “Repent Now” cult glimpsed on the side, like in Stanley Kramer’s ON THE BEACH (which CHILDREN OF MEN resembles in some ways). And maybe worst of all, the wholesale killings of the elderly are re-presented as a voluntary suicide kit.

    For James and many other Christians and conservatives, collapsing fertility rates in the West are the ultimate sign of hopelessness — a self-hating culture of death contracepting itself into oblivion (and the basic demographic data are pretty much beyond dispute, as is the response — to import more immigrants). Western Civilization (Europe especially), the argument goes, has put itself on the road to extinction through its embrace of radical selfdom, feminism and sexual hedonism (and the consequent rights to frustrate fertility and then murder babies). So the novel’s premise is simply a radicalization of what already is going on on these matters. It doesn’t make sense as anything else.

    What trips Cuaron into thinking this is detachable from the “no child has been born for 20 years” premise is that he misunderstands the nature of hope, or at least the nature of Hope, the theological concept. He says:

    What I was attracted to was the concept of infertility as a premise. I was not really interested in doing a science fiction film, so I had completely disregarded it. But the premise kept haunting me. It was not until I realized that the premise of the film could serve as a metaphor for the fading sense of hope, that it could be a point of departure for an exploration of the state of things that we’re living in now, the things that are shaping this very first part of the 21st century, that I wanted to do it.

    He has it exactly backwards. Sure … obviously the material is about the Death of Hope, with infertility as a metaphor for that. But the Death of Hope isn’t neatly separable from infertility. To have a child is the ultimate irrational act of hope, both a vote of confidence in the future beyond one’s own life, and the participation in this future’s creation. To lack all hope is to sink into depressive who-gives-a-damn torpor. Indeed, there are scenes from ON THE BEACH that resonated much more with me than anything in CHILDREN OF MEN — the auto races.² This is why James’s dystopic England is so terribly tranquil with low crime, rather than Cuaron’s Hobbesian war. Indeed, in a perverse way (and obviously whatever else might be said of them), the guerrillas and terrorists and fascist jackboots that Cuaron peoples this film with don’t lack hope — indeed, they have little else.

    In short, by short-shrifting James’s religiosity and taking infertility as merely a “point of departure” for matters of today, Cuaron makes the situation’s central premise completely incoherent. A non-signifier that drags the film down because it makes no sense, even as a mere Hitchcockian Macguffin. If you want to rant about U.S. treatment of immigrants or terrorists, you don’t need to set it in a world like James’s (nor is it very helpful to do so). I don’t know how any film of CHILDREN OF MEN could have adequately handled or made explicit James’s background concerns. But Cuaron just wasn’t interested, and as a result has made a sci-fi dystopia that doesn’t hold any water.

    And it’s not as though the immigration material that Cuaron DOES add is even really handled all that well. Because it has nothing to do with infertility, it just feels clunked on top of what would otherwise be just an elaborate chase scene like THE NATIVITY STORY or APOCALYPTO. It’s just, as Cuaron almost says, a bid to provide a veneer of topicality. I once wrote a piece on LEGALLY BLONDE 2, where I compared that film’s liberalism to product placement. That’s exactly the level at which Cuaron deals with practically every topic in the film. We see out the side of our eyes some people in hoods, and the liberal viewers and reviewers solemnly cluck “Abu Ghraib” as if they’d just a sublymonal ad for Sprite. Those images have nothing whatsoever to do with contemporary immigration, much less the economic logic of a society short of youth and workers. But why let the facts interfere with a good inflammatory smear? The film has bumper stickers and badges and old newspaper headlines against the Iraq war on walls and desks and other places where such things show up. But if the world has gotten this screwed up in the 25 intervening years, shouldn’t there be fresher protest icons — maybe a “to hell with Hillary” over her nuking Pakistan, say? There are vague ones, sure, but nothing that anyone could derive anything from. But no … not when the real audience for these ads-from-the-future is contemporary liberals and their fantasies, wish-fulfillments and self-vindication.³
    ——————————————————————–
    ¹ Though I will admit a pretty thoroughgoing contempt for Mexicans who bitch about how mean and inhumane are US immigration policies and practices. They are a model of charity and humanity compared to Mexico’s policies and practices.
    ² I’m tempted to just come out and say ON THE BEACH is the better film. But then I remember Fred Astaire trying to act, Anthony Perkins trying to act, and Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck “spreading fertilizer” in the wheat fields. And I’m cured of that temptation.
    ³ Greatest irony: Behind all the “fuck Bush” product placement in the movie, you would never guess that apropos the film’s major concern, i.e., immigration, that Bush is one of the “good” guys — pushing for a major amnesty for (potentially) more than 10 million illegals and that he is widely distrusted among non K-Street/Wall-Street conservatives, i.e., we fascists, on precisely this score.

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    December 26, 2006 - Posted by | Alfonso Cuaron, Religion in movies

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Hugh Hewitt5
Salem Radio Network



(Reviewers' Site/Bio)

  • The Nativity Story
    I spent an hour talking about the new movie, The Nativity Story, with Dr. Mark D. Roberts (who has a great series of posts on the subject) and historian Paul Maier.  Maier is widely known and respected for his scholarship on the era, and proved to be a wonderful guest.  Roberts, as usual, was full of the insight his readers love.  Give a listen to the hour and then go see the movie.  As Roberts put it, when you are feeling a little overwhelmed by the Christmas season, the film is a wonderful way to get past the noise and back to the real meaning of Christmas. Maier’s is one of the world’s leading authorities on Josephus, and Roberts recommends Maier’s In The Fullness of Time as the first of Maier’s books to read. ]]>
    ...
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  • Where's Marley When You Need Him: Humbug Richard Daley Needs A Wake-Up Call
    (”The Nativity Story” is briefly mentioned in this.)
    From Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass: And lo, City Hall ordered the heralds to cry the mayoral decree from the top of every two-flat and skyscraper in his domain: No advertising of the movie “The Nativity Story” at City Hall’s approved German Christmas festival, called Christkindlmarket, right across the street from City Hall in Daley Plaza. Christkindlmarket literally means “Christ child market” in German. The sponsors included the producers of “The Nativity Story,” a film about the birth of Christ. The market wanted to run ads about the movie at the festival that commemorates Christmas. But City Hall determined such ads would offend. Jim Law, mayoral herald and director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, explained: “Our guidance was that this very prominently placed advertisement would not only be insensitive to the many people of different faiths who come to enjoy the market for its food and unique gifts, but also it would be contrary to acceptable advertising standards suggested to the many festivals holding events on Daley Plaza.” “Our guidance?” What manner of spirit visited City Hall to shape this statement? The ghost of George Orwell? I am working on arranging a free screening of The Nativity Story for Mayor Daley and 199 other City  of Chicago employees at a theater a mile and a half from the mayor’s vast office complex.  Perhaps if Mayor Daley sees it he’ll realize what a truly dumb move this was and restore the movie to its sponsorship spot.  Or perhaps his dad will appear Marley-like before him and give him fair warning. ]]>
    ...
    (Review Source)
  • Mayor Daley's Hypocrisy and Chicago's Merchants' Peril
    (”The Nativity Story” is briefly mentioned in this.)
    Yesterday the City of Chicago successfully pushed the German American Chamber of Commerce to drop New Line Cinema’s The Nativity Story as a sponsor the traditional German Christkindlmarket.  City officials said the new film –segments of which were going to play on televisions at the market– “might offend non-Christians.” So why did Mayor Daley light the Christmas Tree last week?  I guess it is ok to give offense if the Mayor gets face time in the media: It’s the 93rd Chicago Christmas tree. Chicago businessman P.J. Jordan presented the first tree to Mayor Carter H. Harrison in 1913 to commemorate his friend and business associate, Capt. Herman Schuenemann , a Great Lakes ship captain whom, each year, brought a boatload of Christmas trees to Chicago, some of which he sold and some of which he gave away to the poor. Schuenemann, his ship and crew were lost in Lake Michigan while bringing a load of trees to Chicago in late 1912. Jordan’s tree, a 35-foot Douglas spruce, had 600 multi-colored lights and was topped with the Star of Bethlehem. It sat in Grant Park, as did all of Chicago’s official Christmas trees until 1966. The official city tree was moved to Daley Plaza in 1967. You can see the 90-foot tree nightly through Jan. 8. Surrounding it is the 11th annual Daley Plaza Christkindlmarket, which will run through Dec. 24. What is amazing is that Chicago profits enormously from Christmas-season shopping, andgoes out of its way to attract the seasonal business. Think American Girl Place for starters.  (I have a friend Dan with four girls who had to make the pilgrimage to the mother ship store.)  If Chicago is going to anti-Nativity, will the merchants of the city complain if shoppers take that into account? I’ll be kicking this story around with Wyck Godfrey, producer of The Nativity Story, and my colleague from Chapman Law School, Professor Larry Rosenthal who spent many years as a senior lawyer inside the City of Chicago’s legal office following his clerkship with Justice Stephens.  My guess is that some bone-head low level staffer has put Daley in this position, and I expect the Irish-Catholic Daley doesn’t like being anti-Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus. UPDATE: The Nativity Story’s producer Wyck Godfrey just offered on my show to hold a screening of the film –which opened at The vatican, for goodness sakes, for Mayor Daley and his staff in Chicago.  If I was advising New Line, I wouldn’t wait for the mayor’s knuckle-headed staff to call.  I’d set ithe screening up in a theater near the mayor’s office for noon on Friday and see if Mayor Daley and/or his senior staff shows up. UPDATE:  Here’s the brochure for the Christkindlmarket.  Here’s the website. Sponsors acceptable to Mayor Daley?  Lufthansa.  ComeToGermany.com. Mercedes Benz.  DaimlerChrysler.  BMW.  Bischoff.  Great Lakes Wine Company. Just not a movie about the proverbial “reason for the season.”   ]]>
    ...
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  • The Grinch Who Stole Christmas: Mayor Daley
    (”The Nativity Story” is briefly mentioned in this.)
    Turns out to be Chicago, which has refused to sponsor a Christmas festival because one of its co-sponsors is the new movie, The Nativity Story: CHICAGO ]]>
    ...
    (Review Source)
  • Dear Mayor Daley
    (”The Nativity Story” is briefly mentioned in this.)
    Dear Mayor Daley: I have secured all the seats for the Friday, December 1, 11:00 AM showing of The Nativity Story at the AMC River East 21, 322 East Illinois Street.   WIND-AM 560 will be announcing the details of who is invited and how the seats will be distributed, but we are holding ten seats for you and your close staff.  I am certain that once you have seen the film you will reverse your decision to pressure Christkindmarket organizers to drop the movie’s sponsorship. Please rsvp to me at hugh@hughhewitt.com. Hugh Hewitt ]]>
    ...
    (Review Source)

The Federalist Staff1
The Federalist



(Reviewers' Site/Bio)

  • Filmmakers Move Away From White Jesus
    (”The Nativity Story” is briefly mentioned in this.)
    When “Killing Jesus” premieres on the National Geographic Channel this coming Sunday (March 29), it will mark a departure from previous Jesus films in at least three ways. First, the film will adopt a respectfully agnostic position on the miracles: Produced by Ridley Scott (who directed the similarly agnostic “Exodus: Gods and Kings” just a few months ago) and based on the book by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, the film will begin with prophecies and Wise Men from the East, and it will end with an empty tomb, but the actual wonders performed by Jesus will be left open to interpretation. Second, the film will focus on Jesus’ family, including his brother James, more than most previous films have done. But most significantly of all, perhaps: for the first time ever, the actor playing Jesus in a major English-language film—Haaz Sleiman, born in the United Arab Emirates and raised in Lebanon—will be someone from the Middle East, just like Jesus himself. The Rise in Ethnic Authenticity For centuries, Western artists, especially those hailing from northern Europe, have imagined a Jesus who looks more or less like them: blue eyes, hair that falls somewhere between blonde and light brown, and so on. This image of Jesus has carried over into popular films: actors like Jeffrey Hunter (in 1961’s “King of Kings”) and Robert Powell (in 1977’s “Jesus of Nazareth”) were reportedly cast as Jesus for the piercing intensity of their eyes—eyes which happened to be blue—and later filmmakers like Martin Scorsese (1988’s “The Last Temptation of Christ”) perpetuated the stereotype because they wanted to subvert that image instead of replacing it altogether. For centuries, Western artists, especially those hailing from northern Europe, have imagined a Jesus who looks more or less like them. More recently, however, filmmakers have been looking for alternatives to the stereotype, and you can see this process at work already in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (2004). For all the controversy stirred up by that film, Gibson wanted it to be as “historically accurate” as possible, and to that end, he not only had the actors speak all their dialogue in Latin and Aramaic, he also had actor James Caviezel made up to look more Semitic, even going so far as to turn Caviezel’s blue eyes brown using digital effects. Then came “The Nativity Story” (2006), directed by Catherine Hardwicke, which went out of its way to cast actors who either came from the Middle East or could at least pass for characters who did. The Virgin Mary was played by Maori Keisha Castle-Hughes and Joseph was played by Oscar Isaac, an American actor of Cuban and Guatemalan descent; but many of their relatives and neighbours—including Mary’s parents and her cousin Elizabeth—were played by Palestinians and Iranians, and the angel Gabriel was played by Alexander Siddig, a British actor of Sudanese descent on his father’s side. More recently, the Lumo Project, which is developing word-for-word adaptations of all four gospels—the first one, “The Gospel of John,” premiered on Netflix last year—cast Selva Rasalingam, who is part Tamil, as Jesus. And rumour has it that Cliff Curtis, the Maori actor who played Castle-Hughes’ father in “Whale Rider,” may be playing Jesus himself in “Clavius,” an upcoming film about a Roman centurion who investigates reports of the resurrection. (Rasalingam has a part in that film, too, as one of the apostles named James.) Middle Eastern Filmmakers Get In on the Action Meanwhile, as all this has been going on, filmmakers within the Middle East itself have been mounting their own productions—sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Iranian cinema, in particular, has produced a number of films over the last decade or two that are based on biblical figures such as Abraham, Joseph, and Solomon, but because these films are produced with the approval of the Iranian government, they take the Koran as their primary source material rather than the Bible. Thus, for example, “Abraham, the Friend of God” (2008) concludes with Abraham and Ishmael together building the Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam. Iranian cinema has produced a number of films over the last decade or two that are based on biblical figures, but they take the Koran as their primary source material rather than the Bible. One early entry in this genre was “Saint Mary” (released in 1997 or 2002, depending on which source you believe). Directed by Shahriar Bahrani, this film tells the story of Jesus’ mother, from her own birth to the birth of her son, and while some of its plot points—such as Mary growing up in the Jerusalem temple—can be traced to apocryphal Christian literature, others, such as her claim to have been visited in a vision by the future mother of the “last prophet,” clearly reflect Muslim beliefs. The film also makes a point of emphasizing that the Iranians’ ancient forebears believed in a single God long before they were Muslim: the three Wise Men are all identified as Persians who believe in Ahura Mazda, and they say that the birth of the Messiah will be a blessing to monotheists from all over the world. This was followed several years later by “Jesus, the Spirit of God” (2007), also known as “The Messiah,” which was later expanded into a 20-episode TV series. Directed by Nader Talebzadeh, the Jesus of this film repeatedly insists that he is not divine, offends the Jews by saying it was Ishmael rather than Isaac that Abraham almost sacrificed, and predicts the coming of a “Comforter” (i.e. Mohammed) who “will remind everyone of what I have taught and will bear testimony to the truth of my teachings when it has gone astray.” Finally, in keeping with the Muslim belief that God would not have allowed Jesus to suffer the horrors of crucifixion, and taking its cue from the so-called Gospel of Barnabas, this film shows Jesus being taken up into heaven before the authorities can arrest him, and Judas being crucified in Jesus’ place. Jesus Films In Islamic Cultures Films about Jesus and other biblical figures are permitted in Iran because Shi’ite Islam does not frown upon depictions of the prophets the way that Sunni Islam often does. But outside of Iran, it has been more difficult to make a movie about Jesus in the Middle East. Outside of Iran, it has been more difficult to make a movie about Jesus in the Middle East. It was not always thus: The Arabic life-of-Jesus movie “The Life and Passion of the Christ” was produced by an Egyptian film company way back in 1939, and the film was reportedly shown in theatres at Christmas and Easter every year until it was banned in the 1970s. But it is difficult to find much information about the film, and it has apparently been so thoroughly blocked from the collective cultural memory of that region that filmmakers who now try to make Arabic films about Jesus sometimes claim that their films are the first to be made in that language. And Arabic filmmakers certainly have been trying in recent years to make movies about Jesus in their own language, and in ways that would celebrate the story’s connection to their homelands. In 2006, Egyptian filmmakers Mohammed Ashoub, a Muslim producer, and Fayez Ghali, a Christian screenwriter, announced their intention to make a movie about Jesus in Arabic; four years later, they tapped Ahmed Maher, a Muslim, to direct the film. Maher said he wanted to make the film partly to shine a light on the country’s positive history at a time when it was being associated with terrorism. “It is important for the West to understand that Egypt, which produced [al-Qaeda leader] Ayman El-Zawahri and [9/11 terrorist] Mohamed Atta, is itself the country that embraced Christ the infant when no one else would,” he said. Meanwhile, in 2009, Lebanese director Samir Habchi announced that he was going to direct the first Arabic movie about Jesus. Called “The Resurrected,” he planned to shoot it in many of the actual locations that Jesus is said to have visited, including the Lebanese cities of Qana, where Jesus may have performed his first miracle, and Tyre, where Jesus was persuaded to heal a Gentile woman’s daughter after he initially rebuffed her. ‘It is important for the West to understand that Egypt…is itself the country that embraced Christ the infant when no one else would.’ Neither of these films, however, seem to have been made in the end. They do not show up on the filmmakers’ Internet Movie Database pages, and no other information about them seems to exist. Sometimes movies fall apart in pre-production; sometimes overly ambitious producers go public with their plans before they’re ready to act on them. But in the case of the Egyptian film, at least, the filmmakers also received strong opposition from Al Azhar, the top Sunni institution in Egypt, which said it was forbidden to make images of Jesus. One new Arabic film about Jesus was made in the end, though: “The Savior” (2013), directed by Palestinian filmmaker Robert Savo and shot entirely in Jordan and Bulgaria. While “The Savior” does include some details that are probably unique within this genre—such as a supernatural light that descends on Mary’s womb while she’s sleeping sometime after the Annunciation—the film is a relatively straightforward adaptation of Luke’s gospel, with bits of Matthew and John thrown in for good measure. And while the film was financed by Christians from the United States and other countries, the dialogue is all in Arabic, and the actors—at least some of whom are Muslim—are all from the Middle East, as well. A booklet promoting the film, and a video featuring interviews with the actors, assert that this is the first film to tell the story of Jesus featuring Arabic actors speaking Arabic dialogue. ‘Killing Jesus’ Marries These Two Trends So, “Killing Jesus” may represent a confluence of two streams in recent film history: a greater emphasis on historical accuracy in American films, and greater opportunities for Middle Eastern actors to play characters who appear in both the Bible and the Koran. And these two streams may run together even more in years to come: The ABC network has commissioned a pilot for a possible TV series about Saul and David called “Of Kings and Prophets.” It counts Iranian-American writer Reza Aslan among its producers, and the cast includes Mohammad Bakri (an Israeli Arab who played Herod Antipas in “The Savior”) as the prophet Samuel, and “Killing Jesus’s” own Haaz Sleiman as Saul’s son Jonathan. These stories originated in the Middle East. And now, actors and filmmakers from the Middle East are playing a greater part than ever in getting these stories told. ]]>
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