Tuesday, 2 November 2010

He who must die

This picture says it all.

This is a film made in 1957 by Jules Dassin set in Crete in 1921. Greece is under Turkish occupation in the aftermath of The Great War and ethnic cleansing is under way for those unable to get on with occupying forces.

Each year the small village enacts a Passion Play. The leader of the Village Council and Priest are in cahoots with the Agha and all kinds of accommodations are made to maintain the peace and ensure those who lead have a comfortable lifestyle.

When an entire village of pilgrim people turn up having been driven out of their own homes for resisting the Turk's rule, the Priest sees a threat to peaceful stability and declares that the people have cholera and that they must be on their way. They move a short distance away and fed up with their wandering begin to build a new village. With no resources and with children dying from starvation, folk from the established village begin to take pity on them - especially those chosen to play the lead characters in the Passion Play.

A lot of how the story is played out is a product of the context the story is set within (as is always the case). However, this remains a powerful retelling of the Passion story - unequalled perhaps except for Jesus of Montreal. This film demands that viewers challenge their own preconceptions. It raises important questions about refugees, ethnic cleansing, hospitality, pacifism in the face of an unjust invader, who is my sister/brother, the role of religious leaders and a faith, Christianity, whose history is marred by conflict and in-fighting.

I was particularly challenged by the prophetic leadership role the priest played and how seductively attractive the autocratic leadership they exercised appeared. The film very cleverly demonstrated how Pharisaical one priest became and how the other became an armed suffering servant - after blessing the menfolk who had taken up arms, he put down the Bible and took up a rifle alongside them.

There are many powerful performances in this film. It is not widely available but can seemingly be downloaded and viewed. The quality of the print has deteriorated over time and the sub-titles move alarming quickly to begin with and are hard to see clearly - but they do get easier to understand.

This film will reward the dedicated viewer - it contains much to stimulate reflection.

I'll give it 7.5/10.

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