Jésus of Montréal

(Denys Arcand, Canada/France, 1989)


Jésus of Montréal aspires to the tradition of corrosive and anti-authoritarian satire mastered by Luis Buñuel. The territory is familiar: the story of the Gospels reinterpreted for a modern audience.

The device here is that of an actor (sulky Jean-Pierre Léaud lookalike Lothaire Bluteau) playing Christ in a supposedly heretical open-air passion play. As is to be expected, the part gradually takes over the young man's life. More and more, his actions mirror those of Jesus – recruiting other actors as He did disciples, treating the crew at a television studio like the money lenders at the temple.

The result, although not without possibilities, is on all levels confused and empty. It flirts with Buñuel-like atheistic blasphemy (was Christ actually the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier?) but quickly backs away. It raises that tantalising question of Christ's sexuality but, unlike Martin Scorsese's briefly infamous The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), refuses to follow through. It takes glib potshots at all the usual targets: mass media, big business, pornography, advertising.

The real problem with Jésus of Montréal is that it offers no convincing spiritual alternative to our profane existence. The only glimpse of this is the recurring image of two young female cherubs singing choral music, first in a church and then in a subway. It is a wimpy, bloodless image – arthouse cinema at its very worst.

© Adrian Martin June 1990

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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