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Modern Allegory of 'Jesus of Montreal' Isn't Preachy

July 15, 1993|GEOFF BOUCHER

The image is a familiar one: Jesus hanging on the cross, weary and bloodied, tormented but willing to sacrifice himself. Then two Canadian police officers appear, politely extract him from his painful perch and arrest him for vandalism.

The startling scene may sound outlandish, even blasphemous to some, but when presented in context among the spiritually sublime explorations of the 1989 film "Jesus of Montreal," it is just another thread in a complex weave of biblical allegory and modern-day social realism.

The film revolves around a Montreal church's annual staging of the Passion Play, which is given new life by a young, innovative acting troupe, led by Daniel Coulombe (Lothaire Bluteau) as Christ. Using audience interaction and unconventional outdoor stagings, the troupe's gripping performances become a sensation among the area intelligentsia.

But depicting Christ's struggles soon starts to spill into the lives of the actors, particularly Daniel. As he delves further into Christ's life, he begins a spiritual quest of his own, a search that pits him against the church's resentful pastor, dehumanizing television producers and the cynical masses that turn away from the poor and sick.

As the lines between past and present and art and life continue to blur, Daniel finds himself fired, arrested while on the cross during a performance and, finally, in mortal danger. Daniel's downfall begins to mirror Christ's betrayal, but director Denys Arcand is careful to keep the film away from traps of pretension or hollow moralizing.

Instead, the movie takes on a truly powerful momentum that leads to a fitting finale that is at once both totally expected and a complete surprise.

"Jesus of Montreal" (1989), di rected by Denys Arcand. 118 minutes. French with English subtitles. Rated R.

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