leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
"Do you think they are doing this because he is black?" asks Mary (Debbi Morgan) as nervous Pharisees and occupying Romans fed up with constant Judean unrest form a pragmatic alliance to squash the nascent cult growing around her son, itinerant preacher Jesus of Nazareth (Jean-Claude La Marre). "No," replies her husband, Joseph. "They're doing it because he's the Messiah." Promoted as controversial because it depicts Jesus of Nazareth as a man of color and centuries of European religious teaching notwithstanding, it defies reason that he was anything else this pious, low-key religious film chronicles the last 48 hours of Jesus' life, the same period depicted in Mel Gibson's THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004). But unlike Gibson, director, cowriter, coproducer and star LaMarre is more interested in Jesus' teachings than in his suffering, and suggests that race may have helped shape the course of biblical events. Jesus claims he was born in a manger because his mother was black, not because Bethlehem was overcrowded because of a capricious census, and religious elder Nicodemus wonders aloud whether "this dark-skinned Nazarene" could really be the Messiah prophesied by God. In the end, there was only one way the story could ever go: Jesus of Nazareth was born to die for mankind's sins. And ultimately LaMarre opts for a message of unification over divisiveness; the Last Supper, with its philosophical discourse, is depicted at length, while the more conventionally dramatic trial and trek to Golgotha get short shrift. When the apostle Thomas (Jean-Pierre Parent), doubter extraordinaire, coyly asks Jesus how it feels to be "different," the answer is, "In my father's eyes, we are all different, yet we are all the same." This is not a film for neophytes: It proceeds from the assumption that the viewer is familiar with the events and people of Jesus' life, and is probably right in doing so: Its intended audience is seriously Christian. The constraints of a low budget are evident, the quality of the performances variable and the pacing is deliberate, to put the kindest face on it the film feels long, even at a scant 81 minutes. But its ultimate purpose is to reclaim the faces of Jesus and his apostles including Judas (Johann John Jean) for African-American Christians, and it does.