Saturday, March 23, 2013

Taliesin Meets: Jesus of Montreal

It struck me that having looked at the entire Omen pentology I really needed to flip the coin of Christian mythology (and before anyone comments, to me it is mythology, my opinion, live with it). Also I am all too aware that everything I have looked at here at the Cult Cinema Club is horror and I do watch more than horror films.

Jesus of Montreal was a 1989 film directed by Denys Arcand and is, without a doubt, one of my favourite films. However, before I look at the film itself I wish to moan about the DVD, Arrow films are normally marvellous and they have released a special edition of this now (which might prove superior), but this was their first effort.

The box says it is a 16:9 anamorphic print, but actually it is 4:3 full screen. The print is a straight video lift with no enhancement for digital media and thus looks muddy and the English subtitles (the film is primarily French language) are hardcoded and difficult to read at times. Poor, poor, poor… but even so it cannot truly distract from the genius of the film.

Lothaire Bluteau as Daniel
The film begins with the final scenes of a play, which ends with a suicide and rapturous applause. An advertising executive in the crowd suggests she wants the lead actor’s head… for her new campaign. The actor is surrounded backstage by sycophantic critics but excuses himself when he sees an old friend, Daniel (Lothaire Bluteau), whom he describes as a real actor. He and Daniel embrace and he asks Daniel what his next role is… Jesus is the reply. The actor, of course, is the equivalent of John the Baptist.

Johanne-Marie Tremblay as Constance
Daniel meets Fr. Leclerc (Gilles Pelletier). Leclerc is in charge of the Passion Play in the Montreal basilica but knows that the script (in place for 35 years) has become stale. He wants Daniel to modernise it and direct the new Passion Play. Daniel watches a video of the old script being performed and recognises Constance (Johanne-Marie Tremblay). He finds her working in a soup kitchen and later discovers that Leclerc is sleeping with her. The other members of the new troupe are Martin (Rémy Girard) who does porn voice over, Mireille (Catherine Wilkening) who is an advert model known for a fine ass and René (Robert Lepage) a more conventional voice over actor who only joins if they can squeeze in the Hamlet soliloquy for him.

walk on water
The play they develop is controversial, to say the least. It points out that there is little to no contemporary evidence for Christ, that the gospels were written 100 years after his death, that there is a chance that he was the bastard son of a Roman soldier and Mary was an unmarried mother. Yet throughout all this they maintain the essence of Christianity at the core of the play. This is, of course, of no consequence to the Catholic hierarchy – whose representatives are berated by Daniel via a biblical reference during the second performance. This underlines the true satire of the film, whilst many might see it is anti-Christian, due to the ‘heretical’ concepts it espouses, actually it is anti-establishment but pro-message.

stabbed with the spear
The play itself is marvellous, you would pay to go and see it if performed as portrayed on screen. However the role and the actor begin to merge. There is a scene that is Christ and the moneylenders in the temple but is actually ad-men in a theatre. There is another scene that sees Satan (this time a lawyer) offering Christ (Daniel of course) Montreal. The film, like the Passion Play itself, is a tragedy but in his own way Daniel does bring sight to the blind, life to the dead and it is the established religious orders that condemn him.

This is a fine, fine film and one that I cannot recommend highly enough – I am going to link below to the Koch Lorber Films version in the hope that it is a better print. The imdb page is here.


  1. I have never seen this and have always heard about it. I picked it as a VHS way back when that was what people rented but never rented it. Cool to explore more than just horror as well. I try to do that with the posts at the UCafe where I do film noir and westerns as well, though usually older films. Some people may think I never watch anything made after 1975, but most films I watch lately are fairly recent. I jsut don't blog about them.I will see if I can locate this one. Thanks Andy for keeping this site alive. I am headed back here but struggling with my main blog right now, doing some "cleaning up" there so to speak.

  2. Cheers Bill... I'll have more for the UC-CCC soon :)

  3. Finally doing some stuff again myself here! Sort of free style writing, not a lot of research. More opinion and observation.