Worlds removed from Hollywood’s elephantine Biblical epics, Piero Paolo Pasolini’s Il Vangelo secondo Matteo was a low-budget black-and-white pastoral Christian film, made by an atheist Marxist homosexual. Pasolini said he responded to the literary brilliance and narrative propulsion of the Matthew gospel he wanted to show that the greatest story ever told was, among other things, a great story. His dark-haired, dark-eyed, unibrowed Jesus (played by Enrique Irazoqui, a Basque Jew who, like the other performers, was not a professional actor) spits out the parables and prophesies with a brisk ferocity, like a union organizer with a spiel to finish before the end of the lunch break. He is testy with his inquisitors and abrupt with his Apostles. He’s a man-God in a hurry to fulfill his mission. Sooner dead, sooner resurrected.
One of the mob scurrying after him toward Calvary screams, “His blood be on our children!” This is the verse from Matthew that implicitly condemns Jews for the murder of Christ. Yet here, with Italians chasing Italians, the curse seems one not of race or religion but of tribe. In this light, the crucifixion is a clan battle the Corleones could appreciate.