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Il Messia 1975
Description: Directed by Roberto Rossellini (his final film). Rossellini takes numerous liberties with the original source material, rearranging and omitting happenings at will, presenting everything in a low-key, highly undramatic fashion. The movie starts in Old Testament times, allowing Rossellini to show the storyline of Jesus in its ancient, historic context. This clip shows the Last Supper, depicted Rossellini-style.
Released: 18 Feb 1976 Director: Roberto Rossellini Writers: Silvia D'Amico Bendico, Jean Gruault (French adaptation), Roberto Rossellini Actors: Pier Maria Rossi, Mita Ungaro, Carlos de Carvalho, Fausto Di Bella Genres: Biography, History
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Il Messia Reviews:

This is an wonderful movie, and for many reasons. No one in Hollywood should create such a low-key, authentic, and INTELLIGENT historic drama, especially considering topics matter. The first 20 mins is a concise and brilliant history of the Jews. And then the life: It is the life of Jesus without the miracles. Like the priest in Launch Town (by Rossellini), R understands that the struggle is to live a nice life. Most Biblical films are a total insult. This is extraordinary. The actors are believable. It feels raw -- but controlled raw, if that makes sense. Again: authentic. Believable.


Released few years after his death, Roberto Rossellini's "The Messiah" is arguably one of the two most interesting movies made about Jesus Christ, the another being Pier Paolo Pasolini's "The Gospel According to St. Matthew" , which paints Christ as a proto-Marxist and radical, social activist.Oddly, though Rossellini made many perfect "spiritual films" - see "The Flowers of St Francis" - the tone of "The Messiah" is closer to his 1971 movie "Socrates" and his 1972 movie "Blaise Pascal", Rossellini (an atheist) painting Christ as a quiet boy of logic and reason.And so Rossillini's movie is less about "the messiah" than it is about folks whose needs for "a messiah" are so powerful that they project godhood upon a Jesus Christ that is held at a distance and treated almost as a cipher. As such, Rossillini portrays Christ as a mild, almost timid rabbi, the most ordinary, quiet and uninspiring teacher imaginable. His Jesus, like Bresson's Joan of Arc, despite being immensely curious, also seems to wish to disappear into obscurity.Of course, upon this blank slate Rossillini then shows a slew of followers blindly projecting their burdens, wants and needs. Rossellini's Christ is a resonant tabula rasa, and it is ultimately others who turn him into the son of God.In this regard, the followers of Jesus are turned into a subtle parody of irrationality, whilst those naysayers whom movies typically present lambasting Christ as a conman and charlatan, are shown to be simply reacting vs illogical, scripture twisting "Christians" who are, at worst, a civilly disruptive phenomenon, at best, a harmless bunch of simpletons.Christ is such a cipher in this movie that, even on the cross, Rossillini chooses to leave out those iconic bits of Biblical dialogue which we're all familiar with ("Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do!", "My Father, why hast Thou forsaken me?" etc). Instead, Christ just hangs there, a provocative question mark.Which is not to tell that the movie mocks Christians. No, Rossellini is up to something else. His movie downplays the Fresh Testament's miracles and more supernatural elements, and portrays Christs followers, both as a race and social class, as being abandoned, adrift, perpetually persecuted, direction-less and without a unifying leader. So hungry are they for direction and justice, that they almost conjure Christ himself out of the desert sands. He, they decide, will stand for them. In this regard the movie draws parallels with Rossellini's Socrates, who is abused by an Athenian "democracy" which persecutes intellectuals, humanists and educators (intellectuals are similarly summoned and slain in "The Messiah"). The animosity directed towards Christ and Socrates then becomes a metaphor for the growing animosity toward social justice and critical thinking in both totalitarian and democratic societies, both of which are preoccupied with power, profit and so scared of autonomy, knowledge and education. This, of course, echoes Rossellini's own life under Mussolini and post-fascism.So again we have Christ the liberator, not sent, but hungered for by a folks who want to be liberated from the despotic rule of a wealthy minority. Christ's murder then becomes the execution of a people's very dream for liberation. The film's last shot focuses on a sad, strangely empty sky. Christianity as an existential, even social project, dies here, and henceforth becomes a religious cult. Pessimistically, social justice is seen to be attainable in the zone of values/beliefs/hopes etc, but not in the realm of true life. 8/10 - Worth one viewing.


Dubbed "the most Catholic of all movie directors" by one critic, I guess it was only a matter of time before Roberto Rossellini tackled the life of Christ on celluloid. Ironically, this he did in what proved to be his last detail movie which was, in itself, a follow-up to his TV mini-series ACTS OF THE APOSTLES (1969). That earlier work was interesting for treating little-known passages from the Fresh Testament but, with an unhurried pace and a generally unassuming tone, the end effect was decidedly meandering. Conversely, THE MESSIAH presents all-too-familiar happenings – with the overall result feeling lengthy still, yet distinctly more cinematic. That said, it begins off with the comeback of the Jews in the Promised Land and the appointment of their first lord (Saul) before moving on to the life of Christ; actually, this is also one of the several movies to present the popular incident in which Jesus is lost in the temple as a boy. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't stray much from the spirit – or word – of the Gospels: even so, in the throes of an agonizing death, Herod The Nice (played by Vittorio Caprioli – though his trademark flustered demeanor is downplayed by having his voice dubbed) is seen planning the annihilation of his own topics akin to the practice of ancient Egyptian rulers! Incidentally, the rich and commanding voice of Christ himself is supplied by Enrico Maria Salerno – a magnificent actor in his own right who had now already handled the very same task in THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW (1964) – which is effectively contrasted with the inconspicuous appearance of the young boy who appears in the role (perhaps greatest approximating the Lothaire Bluteau of Jesus OF MONTREAL [1989]). This Messiah, then, is far removed from the striking good-looks of Jeffrey Hunter (KING OF KINGS [1961]) and Robert Powell (the Jesus OF NAZARETH [1977] TV mini-series) or the brooding power of Maximum von Sydow (THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD [1965]) and Willem Dafoe (THE LAST TEMPTATION OF Christ [1988])! Naturally, the bulk of the narrative is devoted to Christ's public life – though no overdue emphasis is placed on the miracles he performed (these are mentioned but rarely seen) – which also provides the movie with its essential core…since the latter section, revolving around the more commonly-depicted happenings of Jesus' trial (where Jean Martin, the French Colonel in THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS [1966], nonetheless makes for a fine Pontius Pilate), crucifixion and eventual resurrection are curiously skimped here! The subplot involving John The Baptist, however, is quite nicely handled; by the way, the only another recognizable face in the cast is that of Tina Aumont (even if her contribution amounts to no more than a several mins of screen-time!) as the adulteress Christ famously pardons by denouncing her pursuers instead. The score is, once again, by Mario Nascimbene – though it's not as prominent as his work on ACTS OF THE APOSTLES. On the visual side, the movie seems closest to the contemporaneous Jesus OF NAZARETH – yet the lyrical style and quiet dignity on display makes of THE MESSIAH a more than worthy companion piece to Pier Paolo Pasolini's aforementioned (and more renowned) THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW. With this in mind, while perhaps not the definitive movie on the subject, it certainly emerges as an underrated achievement – both among the myriad treatments (including those by such nice directors as D. W. Griffith, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Cecil B. DeMille and Abel Gance) of Christ's life over the years and in Rossellini's own highly respected canon.



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