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He was an atheist, but he made a film about Jesus and dedicated it to John XXIII

2014-08-05

He was an atheist and a communist, who shocked the world in 1964. That's when filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini released a controversial movie, titled 'The Gospel According to St. Matthew.' True to its name, it deals with the Biblical text, without omissions or add ons. 

But what surprised people even more was who he dedicated the film to. It read: 'To my dear, cheerful and familiar memories of John XXIII.' The film was released 50 years ago. In light of anniversary, the Vatican's newspaper described it as the best film about Jesus. 

CLAUDIA DI GIOVANNI
Director, Vatican Film Library 
"It's a beautiful film. It's a representation of Christ, produced by a non Catholic, but it has strong spirituality and humanity. Christ is depicted as true human: A human and divine Christ. It's simply a great work of art to have in our film library.” 

As part of the celebration, the Vatican Film Library has conducted a detailed restoration of the actual film, which stretches to almost 5,000 feet. After eight months, it's ready for its close up. 


CLAUDIA DI GIOVANNI 
Director, Vatican Film Library 
"We cleaned out the film by hand, which is the first thing we usually do to brush off the debris. Then we poured some liquid on it to restore its elasticity and to take away any stains. We also changed the box it was kept in, because sometimes it can cause even more damage. Once we finished everything we noticed that there were big improvements. Then we transferred it and made it digital.” 


It's a unique film. Even the actor who played Jesus, had an interesting background. He wasn't a professional actor, instead he was a young Spanish anarchist. The filmmakers own mother portrayed the Virgin Mary. Furthermore, Pasolini refused to shoot the film in a fake setting. He turned to the Italian City of Matera, to depict  Jerusalem. 


In 1964, the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival. It received both equal criticism and praise. He won several prizes for his work, including the International Catholic Film Festival. 


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