The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo) is an Italian film directed in 1964 by Pier Paulo Pasolini.
It is a retelling of the story of Jesus Christ, from the Nativity through to the Resurrection.
I remember how struck I was was on first seeing this film about forty or so years ago. At the same time I was seeing such films as François Truffauld’s L’Enfant Sauvage and Werner Herzog’s Aguirre The Wrath of God.
Raised on a diet of Hollywood pap these films opened my eyes to the European Cinema.
The dialogue of the film is mostly taken directly from the Gospel of Matthew, as Pasolini felt that images could never reach the poetic heights of the text.
He reportedly chose Matthew’s Gospel over the others because he had decided that “John was too mystical, Mark too vulgar, and Luke too sentimental.”
Pier Paulo Pasolini was an atheist, homosexual and Marxist.
When commentators evinced surprise that an non-believer like him could make a film with such a religious theme he replied that anyone who thought he was an non-believer knew him better than he did himself.
The film, shot in black and white, is set in a stark bleak desert landscape. Using amateur actors Pasolini stages a series of set speeches from Matthew’s gospel.
The film is devoid of the customary sanctimonious sentimentality of the genre.
Jesus is a stern Marxist Christ who endures his sufferings with a stoical formality.
The score of the film, consisting mainly of sacred music by J. S. Bach (Mass in B minor and parts of the St. Matthew Passion) and the Gloria from the Congolese Missa Luba is unforgettable and indeed for most of my life since, whenever I have listened to the St. Matthew Passion I have thought of that film.
A serious and profound film, I would suggest it merits another viewing.