Italian cinema: Easter in the Italian movies

Apr 03, 2015 992

WTI Magazine #57    2015 April, 3
Author : Edoardo Peretti      Translation by:


In a country like Italy, whose culture and imagination were and are directly or indirectly strongly characterized by Catholicism, some way also present in writers and directors who do not believe in God, Easter, the most important Christian holiday, has not had the same luck of representation as Christmas has.

Indeed, Christmas is present in many works, even as a "McGuffin" (a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation) to talk about something else, and often regarding its more material and less religious connotation (for instance, the classic example of the Christmas dinner). It is way more rare to find a movie set during an Easter lunch, or that tells the celebrations and rites of this day.

Still, things are different when it comes to describing the stories of the Gospel on which the essence of Easter is based: the stories of the life of Christ. They represent a lush and typical subgenre of the American cinema in the fifties and sixties, and occasionally even after: for example with Scorsese in "The Last Temptation of Christ" or with Mel Gibson's "The Passion". Mythological tales, grandiloquent and a bit pompous, to be honest.

A different approach, however, is given by the Italian movies, even if they are not numerous: of course the mythology remains, but the key is mostly more habitual and realistic, less overtly epic: as if at the center there was Christ as a man, not as a divinity.

No coincidence that the most important Italian movie of this kind is "Il Vangelo secondo Matteo" (The Gospel According to St. Matthew), directed in 1964 by Pier Paolo Pasolini, the thinker-director who has always supported a "free-range" Catholicism, not very different from the secular one from rural areas, with a sacredness without superstructures which has at its center the human experience. The Christ of The Gospel According to St. Matthew told by Pasolini is therefore first and foremost a man of his time, first among equals aka his countrymen, framed by the genuine and timeless realism of the Matera stones and of common faces of the locals, improvised actors chosen as interpreters. The sacredness and greatness are thus emphasized by the fact that the suffering and the choices of Jesus (starting by the sacrifice, that is the basis of Catholicism) are seen in their full, even contradictory, humanity.

To make more evident the basic sacredness, we can mention the references to paintings of religious inspiration, both medieval and renaissance, already present in Pasolini's previous medium-length film: "La Ricotta" (present in the collective film "Ro.Go.Pag"). This film is famous for the reference to Fiorentino's "Deposition from the Cross". In "La Ricotta", perhaps the most important accomplishment of Pasolini as a filmmaker, there is an obvious parallelism, ironically and grotesquely told, between the unfortunate background actor who in a film about the Passion plays the role of the Good Thief, and the Passion itself.

Even Roberto Rossellini's "Il Messia" (The Messiah), a more recent movie (1975), has the humanity of Christ at its center, as shown by the centrality of the mother-child relationship with Mary and the presence, perhaps unique in world cinema, of a scene that tells, with subdued emotion, the Pietà.

In recent years, a mention is deserved by "Su Re" (2012) by Giovanni Colombo, clearly inspired by Pasolini but also with a more overtly theatrical yield: the story of the Passion is carried on in the frame of the Sardinian mountains and the dialect of the place, with extreme aesthetics and ethics care, once again to reaffirm the human basis of divinity.

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