Friday, December 9, 2016

FIAF's Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche series closes with his latest film, STORY OF JUDAS

Last year turns out to have been a banner one for movies about Jesus. Not only did we get Rodrigo Garcia's excellent and unusual Last Days in the Desert, with Ewan McGregor as a questioning, caring Christ, but from France came the most recent work of Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, the fellow whose five-film series comes to a close this Tuesday at New York's French Institute/Alliance Française (FIAF) with THE STORY OF JUDAS.

TrustMovies covered the series last month but had not yet seen this last of Ameur-Zaïmeche's movies. As expected, it's a good one, with a view of both Jesus and Judas that is unlike much of anything we've so far seen. Perhaps it takes a Muslim moviemaker to explore Christianity's leading figure with a new eye and mind. (I suspect Ameur-Zaïmeche, shown at left, to be not particularly religious, at least so far as any fundamentalist attitude is concerned. He seems too humane & intelligent for that.)

Above all, this guy is a good movie-maker, as the other four films in this series attest. His take on Jesus and his story is both fresh and fascinating. Beginning with a buzzing fly on the soundtrack and then a glorious shot of a hut atop a hill, we then move inside that hut as one man lifts another onto his shoulders and carries him out and down. "Four days of fasting, and you're as heavy as ever!" notes the carrier to his burden, and the moment, though clearly set in ancient times, seems as intimate and modern as you could want.

Yes, it's Jesus and Judas, together again, but in a very different re-telling. Here are the teachings, the little children, the crowds, even music, song, and a new cloak. And weeping, too, after some of his pronouncements. Pieces of this filmmaker's loveliest writing can be found in Judas' description of Jesus' words: what they achieve and how they do this.

Ameur-Zaïmeche is less interested in those popular and surely imagined "miracles" than in Jesus' humanity and search for social justice. Look for no Lazarus here, but you will see the money-changers tossed from the temple and the woman taken in adultery (below). Even in the latter, we get the admonition to "Go" but not a mention of "Sin no more." Often the movie may put you in mind of the Pasolini version in its simplicity and honor, but without the overlay of Marxism. Not that the movie is not political, but Story of Judas doesn't wear its politics quite so blatantly.

And though M. Ameur-Zaïmeche plays Judas (he seems to appear prominently in all his films), this is really more of an ensemble piece. Particularly arresting scenes include that of our man washing his disciples feet ("Why?" indeed!) and most especially the scribe, who wants to write down everything "The Master" is saying, and what happens to him. This may be the most unusual and surprising part of the movie, and I think the key might be found in Jesus' (and the filmmaker's) need to place "the thing itself" above all else. (As well as a nod, maybe, to the disastrous results of "transcribing" the scriptures.)

The filmmaker's version is highly telescoped, of course, with the last and major portions given over to the arrest, trial (the most interesting philosophically of any version I've yet seen) and death. Not to worry: Ameur-Zaïmeche does not pull a Mel Gibson here and decide that torture, pain and bloodshed must trump everything. Instead, his imagining of the tale gives us a kind of grand tragedy played out in the most humble of means, with the humanity of all involved at the forefront.

Remember that the "gospels," as we like to refer to them, were all written well after the fact. So why not go with Ameur-Zaïmeche's version. I certainly would. It's beautiful, thoughtful, intelligent and real.

Story of Judas -- in French with English subtitles and running 99 minutes -- will play at FIAF's Florence Gould Hall this coming Tuesday, December 13, at 4pm and 7:30pm. Click here for further information and/or tickets.

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