Iranian biblical films — from Jesus to Joseph


Two days ago, I linked to an article at Breitbart.com on Jesus, the Spirit of God, an Iranian production that just might be the first film to tell the story of Jesus from the Muslim point of view. Curiously, that article seems to be gone now, though you can still read the 196 comments that were posted in response to the article.

But never mind; in addition to the sections I quoted here two days ago, Variety now has its own story on the film. Some excerpts:

LONDON — Fresh from tackling World War II and the Holocaust in local blockbuster “Zero Degree Turn,” (Variety, June 6, 2007), Iran’s state broadcaster IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) is turning to religion as the subject of a pair of big budget skeins.

First up is the $5 million “Jesus, Spirit of God,” helmed by Nader Talebzadeh, which recounts the life of Jesus Christ through Muslim eyes.

Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet and the spirit of God, as the pic’s title states, although not the son of God as stated in Christian theocracy.

Brief aside: “Theocracy“? Not “theology“? Considering the article is about Iran, that may be a Freudian slip of sorts. Anyhoo:

IRIB’s production and sales arm Cima Media Intl. (CMI) is handling the project, which will be released as both a 100-minute feature and a 20-episode TV skein to be aired later this year.

The abridged theatrical version of the project bowed in Tehran cinemas last year, where it garnered a moderate reception from Iranian auds more used to commercial laffers, romances and war pics.

Talebzadeh even hand-delivered a copy of the film to Mel Gibson’s mansion in Malibu last year. The Iranian was met by the security guards who promised to deliver the film to “The Passion of the Christ” helmer although Talebzadeh never heard back from Gibson.

“It is important to show our history before the Islamic revolution,” said CMI managing director Mohammed Reza Abbasian. “These episodes of religious history and Iranian history are very popular with Iranian audiences. We want to show the opinions of Islam toward the prophet. This story came from the Koran without any changes. You could call it Jesus through Islam’s lens.”

Talebzadeh’s film is a faithful adaptation of the life of Jesus — who is depicted with flowing blond hair and fair skin — familiar to Western auds with one notable exception. Where films such as “The Passion” went to great lengths to re-create the crucifixion of Jesus, Talebzadeh’s film sees Jesus saved from the cross by God and taken straight to heaven.

The article then concludes with this interesting revelation:

CMI execs have even bigger plans for their follow-up skein, a $20 million version of the life of Joseph and his multi-colored coat, helmed by Farajollah Salahshoor, that is set to be one of Iran’s biggest-budget productions ever.

The costly skein could be described as a passion project for its producers, as they will have little chance to ever recoup their money back from foreign sales.

“We have tried to sell it to Arab TV stations, but they say that they cannot show the face of the prophets, and, at the same time, it’s not good for European TV,” said Abbasian. “The Iranian government is spending its money on the project, but it wasn’t supposed to cost this much.

“When you start a project you say it will cost $2 million, but we wanted to film this on 35mm not video so it’s become more expensive. We can’t stop the project now. We have to spend more money so we can save the money we already spent. Next time, though, we will film with HD or Digi-Beta.”

It’s interesting that these presumably Shi’ite filmmakers would be tackling the story of Joseph next — and having trouble selling their film to presumably Sunni TV stations that say they cannot show the faces of the prophets — since another movie inspired by the story of Joseph was produced in Egypt over a dozen years ago and became very controversial, even though it changed all the names and was directed by a non-Muslim. It was called The Emigrant, and I wrote about it here — in a blog post about the controversy over another non-Muslim’s efforts to make a movie about Jesus in his native Egypt. (I wonder what ever became of that project?)

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05113670876288157267 Matt Page

    Thanks Peter,

    FWIW that original article was reproduced word for word at various other websites.

    Matt

  • Shuper

    How about a double feature–this movie with a US-made movie about Mohammad?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11715705463586044682 dorsey

    I saw the film (actually, it was a video. The print got lost on its way to the States) at the Philadelphia Film Festival this weekend. I was terribly disappointed by the inadequacy of the subtitles. They were obviously quite abbreviated, and missing altogether in a number of key scenes.

    While it wasn’t a particularly well-done film (especially compared to some of the otherwise beautiful filmmaking coming out of Iran), it was an interesting take on a familiar story. I don’t think most people realize the prominence of Jesus in the story of Islam.

  • http://cafenaderi.wordpress.com cafe naderi

    in addition there is an Iranian TV product on air now: Joseph the prophet
    you can watch the photos here: http://www.aerocenter.ir/news/index.php?option=com_content&view;=article&catid;=8:1387-09-06-11-43-41&id;=48:1387-10-06-23-57-59


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