Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film

By Lloyd Baugh | Go to book overview

1
A Film of Transition:
Jesus of Montreal

Set in the city of Montreal in the present time, Jesus of Montreal tells the story of Daniel Coulombe, a young unemployed actor, who is hired by the priest-director of a Catholic shrine to update the text of a passion play presented each summer in the gardens of the shrine, and then to produce the new version. The young man, bright, creative, charismatic, forms a collective with a group of four actors whom he calls from various activities: Constance is an unemployed actress working in a soup kitchen, Martin has been dubbing foreign porn movies, Mireille, young and very pretty, has been acting in television commercials that accentuate her body and René has been dubbing a documentary about the origins of the universe. Daniel does library research into the question of the historical Jesus, he speaks with a biblical scholar, he consults his companions and together they produce the new script. The result is a demythologizing text, radically different from the previous one. Among other things it casts doubt on the divine origin of Jesus and therefore on his divinity, by making him the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier, shifts around events from the Gospel tradition and in the end seems to skirt the question of the reality of Jesus' bodily Resurrection.

The opening night performance reveals a "very involving show," 1 that is original, full of action, movement and color, and elicits a very favorable reaction from the audience. Not so enthusiastic is Père Leclerc, director of the shrine. Shocked by this all-to-human portrait of Jesus, and (especially) afraid of the reaction of his religious superiors and the board of directors of the shrine, he threatens Daniel. Thanks to coverage by the mass media, Daniel's career seems ready to take off, but then almost immediately, he begins getting in trouble. Reacting in holy wrath to the abuse of Mireille during auditions for a beer commercial, he destroys some television equipment; at the end of the second performance of the passion, he is arrested and put on trial, and refusing the offer of help from a lawyer, he pleads guilty. The clever and corrupt lawyer, Richard Cardinal, who specializes in managing media personalities, tries to persuade Daniel to become his client, promising him a "career plan" and a brilliant future.

While awaiting the decision of the judge in his case, and against the veto of Père Leclerc who wants the four disciples to produce the old version of the passion play, but encouraged by his companions, Daniel decides to go ahead with another performance. Before the end of the crucifixion scene, a large contingent of police interrupts the performance and insists the people go home. A free-for-all ensues, the cross is knocked down and Daniel's head is

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