The New Gospel (2020) Venice Days 2020

September 6th, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Milo Rau; Cast: Yvan Sagnet, Maia Morgenstern, Enrique Irazoqui, Marcello Fonte, Samuel Jacobs, Papa Latyr Faye; Switzerland/Germany 2020, 107 min.

Swiss writer/director Milo Rau gives Jesus and his apostles a contemporary makeover as migrant workers from Africa in his ambitious attempt to breath new life into Christianity’s central premise.

Filmed in Matera, Basilicata, in exactly the same location as Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel according to Matthew (1964), and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ (2004), Rau has also assembled actors from the original dramas. Back in the early 1960s, Pasolini picked an  economics student with an astonishing spiritual radiance to play Jesus. This time veteran actor Enrique Irazoqui plays Judas Iscariot. Meanwhile, Maia Morgenstern reprises her role as Mary from the Gibson feature.

Rau lets cast and crew watch parts of the Pasolini film. Once again, a relative newcomer plays the role of Jesus (Cameroonian activist Yvan Sagnet) who really has to suffer in this no holds barred contemporary version. He is styled as the leader of the “Revolt of Dignity”, a migrant organisation that fights against the exploitation of African workers by the Mafia. The Police intervenes after a demonstration, and the workers have to leave their dilapidated camp. In keeping with the spirit of Pasolini’s Neo-realist take, tourists and citizens of Matera are included in the shooting. They play the spectators, their modern outfits clashing with the historical costumes. The crucifixion has been filmed in the Murgia National Park, in exactly at the same spot where Pasolini and Gibson filmed: the original holes for the three crosses could be used again. 

The mayor of Matera, Raffaelo De Ruggieri, was offered the Pontius Pilate role, but he declined, choosing instead to play Simon of Cyrene, leaving Pilate’s part to Italian professional actor Marcello Fonte. Particularly convincing are Papa Latyr Faye as Peter, and Samuel Jacobs as Judas.

DoP Thomas Eirich-Schneider makes everything look real and the strong cast of professionals and newcomers make it all feel very convincing. But Rau’s project to “put Jesus back on his feet” is not an overall success. An attempt to give Jesus’s story a “black lives matter ” spin – is an avantgarde idea, but a bridge too far, confusing the delicate issues at stake by conflating two very different themes. Having the crowd of Jews shouting at Pilate “crucify the Black man”, somehow takes the action out of context, and leaves the audience with some question marks. AS


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