Now here’s one I didn’t see coming. Only two weeks after Last Days in the Desert premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, here comes another unusual arthouse take on the gospels — this time from the point of view of Judas Iscariot.
The Story of Judas, a French film starring and directed by Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, premiered at the Berlinale yesterday, and a few reviews have begun to trickle in.
Deborah Young at The Hollywood Reporter writes:
At a time of great ideological conflict among world religions, there seems to be more interest than ever in reexamining the lives of leading religious figures. In the French film The Story of Judas (Histoire de Judas), the title character is not the arch-traitor of history but Jesus’s closest friend and loving disciple, ready to do anything to protect him. Written, directed and produced by French-Algerian filmmaker and actor Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche, who plays Judas Iscariot with rough-and-ready passion, it’s a fascinating reworking of an oft-told tale, given more realism by being shot in natural desert landscapes and amid ancient ruins. The overall tone is extremely respectful, but it’s easy to imagine that its deviation from church orthodoxy will alienate a certain part of the audience, while it attracts another segment.
Young compares the film’s positive portrayal of Judas, and the way it puts him at the centre of Jesus’ ministry, to that of films like The Last Temptation of Christ and Jesus Christ Superstar. She also questions some of the film’s revisionism:
Ameur-Zaimeche’s screenplay takes this historical make-over a step further in suggesting that the whole traitor story was probably the fabrication of a vindictive young scribe wronged by Judas. For some reason never made clear, Judas is incensed to find a young man from Qumran (land of the Dead Sea Scrolls) taking notes as Jesus speaks. In a terse exchange overheard by the other apostles, the Lord tells him to “do what he is going to do, and do it quickly.” Judas takes this as a green light to burn the manuscripts of the “accursed scribe”, while the Gospel reports it as a prediction of his betrayal of Christ. In any case, the film’s alternate explanation for Jesus’ words is not very convincing, because why would he order these eye-witness accounts to be destroyed?
Dan Fainaru at Screen Daily focuses on the film’s minimalism:
Shot in what purports to be a replica of the actual places that served as the background of the actual events, and spinning out some of the familiar tales, but never attempting to tell a fully coherent tale, this dry, minimalist version of the New Testament may well travel to some art houses in search of esoteric items, but with Arte France’s involvement in the production, is sure to get plenty of TV exposure.
Though titled The Story Of Judas (L’histoire de Judas), the character that has become the eternally infamous icon of betrayal never really occupies the front stage here and when he does (played by the director himself) he has nothing to reproach himself. He is a devoted, faithful follower of the Rabbi from Nazareth, a sort of composite picture of all his apostles. The thirty silver coins episode is never mentioned, neither is the fateful Last Supper, while the Crucifixion takes place off screen.
But then, to be quite fair, Ameur-Zaimeche is not interested in an actual plot, he seems to be keener on reviving incidents in their primitive settings that when put together show imperialist conquerors crushing idealist natives to prevent their becoming a risk for the security of the occupiers.
If I find any more reviews from the Berlinale, I will add them to this post.