Jesus of Montreal Review

The annual Passion Play has been a fixture at the Montreal basilica for more than forty years, but people have begun to find it old-fashioned. The priest decides it needs an overhaul and hires a new, younger cast with Daniel (Lothaire Bluteau) in the role of Jesus. As Holy Week progresses, the events of the actors’ lives begin to mirror those in the play…

French-Canadian writer-director Denys Arcand had been making films since the 1970s but didn’t achieve much international recognition until 1986’s Decline of the American Empire, a very black satire on the difference, gulf even, between the sexes. Flush with the success of that film, Arcand made Jesus of Montreal, which won the Special Jury Prize at the 1989 Cannes Festival and the following year received an Oscar nomination as Best Foreign-Language Film. His films since then have had less impact. 1993’s Love and Human Remains, his first film in English, was the last one to receive a UK release until 2003’s The Barbarian Invasions, a sequel to Decline.

Jesus of Montreal is a wide-ranging satire that takes in religious humbug and commercialism along its way, along with an elaborate series of parallels with the events of the last week in Jesus’s life. It’s stimulating, intelligent, and often very funny (the scene involving the dubbing of a porn film is hilarious) but I’m not convinced it quite adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Those parts are quite considerable, not least Arcand’s surely paced direction and witty script, and Guy Dufaux’s camerawork. The acting is not in doubt either. Lothaire Bluteau has a fey, somewhat otherworldly presence which has rarely been used as well as it is here, and he is given solid support by the rest of the cast. Rémy Girard and Yves Jacques are Arcand regulars. The cast also features a director to be, Robert Lepage, and Arcand himself plays the small role of the judge.

There are plenty of pleasures and compensations to be had here, for a film which is commendably ambitious even if it doesn’t really bring off everything it attempts. This DVD is another story, however…

On the packaging and the disc of this all-regions DVD it says “16:9 anamorphic”. Would that it were. In actual fact, this is a full-frame transfer, open matte from an intended ratio of 1.85:1. That wouldn’t have been quite so bad, but that’s the least of this transfer’s problems. It runs to the same time as the cinema release (only a second different, according to the BBFC website) which would indicate that it was mastered from an NTSC source. It also seems to have originated from a cinema print. The results are as you might expect: far too much contrast, plenty of ghosting and trailing, lots of artefacts. In fact, it’s quite ugly looking. The subtitles are burned in and can’t be removed and (as you might expect from film-print subtitles) look a little small on a TV set.

The soundtrack is Dolby Surround (ProLogic). This is a reproduction of the original cinema track, so no real complaints there. As this is a very dialogue-led film, much of the sound comes from the centre speaker, with the surrounds given over to the music score and some sounds such as the audience applause near the beginning. It's nothing spectacular, but quite adequate for its purpose.

There are twelve chapter stops. No extras. None. Not even a trailer.

Jesus of Montreal is certainly worth seeing, but not in this DVD which has one of the worst transfers I’ve seen for a new disc of a relatively new film. Not recommended at all.

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