The Best Christmas Movie

Oh sure, it would be great to see real-life dinosaurs, to watch the very first performance of “Hamlet” or hear Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address. But if a time machine could take me back just once, I’d go to Jerusalem at the time of Jesus to see him — and maybe to know.  

Until somebody builds a way-back machine, I will content myself with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s mesmerizingly realistic “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” (1966). A faithful account of Jesus’ life — from the Annunciation to the Resurrection — the Italian writer/director shot the film in black and white as an almost cinema-verite documentary that could have been titled “Jesus: You Are There.” 

The camera is in constant motion, following Jesus (Enrique Irazoqui) as he recruits his band of disciples, performs miracles and preaches to increasingly large crowds. The brilliantly conceived lack of formal staging convinces viewers that they are watching raw footage of Jesus healing the sick, delivering the Sermon on the Mount and carrying the cross. 

Pasolini was a Marxist, and he depicts Jesus as a revolutionary who was crucified because he was stirring the peasantry — the director uses an almost entirely amateur cast, including his mother as the aged Virgin Mary, and the camera often rests on the craggy faces of Jesus’ meek followers. Pasolini’s Jesus can be loving, but he is usually angry and aloof. He spits out warnings of damnation and furiously topples the moneychangers’ tables. Irazoqui becomes Jesus, allowing us to feel his divine power.

Watch it:

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