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Thread: He Who Must Die

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    He Who Must Die

    HE WHO MUST DIE (Celui qui doit mourir)

    Directed by Jules Dassin, France (1957), 122 minutes

    According to a certain reading of the Christian Gospels, it is likely that Jesus was crucified not because he was leading an anti-imperialist campaign against Rome or an anti-capitalist crusade against the current economic powers, or even that he was suspected of being the “Messiah”. Rather, it appears that he was executed because of his enormous popularity with the poor, especially those who had come to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and its perceived threat to the status quo.

    Author Terry Eagleton (New Internationalist, May, 2008) states “Some aspects of the way Jesus is portrayed in these texts have an obvious radical resonance. He is presented as homeless, property-less, peripatetic, socially marginal, disdainful of kinfolk, without a trade or occupation, a friend of outcasts and pariahs, averse to material possessions, without fear for his own safety, a thorn in the side of the Establishment and a scourge of the rich and powerful.”

    Based on Nikos Kazantzakis' powerful novel, "The Greek Passion" American director Jules Dassin 1957 French film He Who Must Die (Celui Qui Doit Mourir) brings Christ’s radicalism to center stage, posing the question - if Jesus returned to Earth, would he be crucified again? Known for such film-noir masterpieces such as Night and the City and Rififi, He Who Must Die was a distinct departure for Dassin who had moved to France after refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

    Now available for the first time in either VHS or DVD-R format from Learmedia (http://www.learmedia.ca), I saw this film yesterday for the first time in 48 years and the experience was just as remarkable as the first time. It is a powerful work of art that is unsparing in its depiction of Christian hypocrisy, skewering those who conveniently forget about Jesus’ words about mercy, justice, feeding the hungry, welcoming the immigrant, sheltering the destitute and protecting the poor from the oppression of the powerful. While its villains may be a bit overdrawn, no clearer example exists on film of the disparity between lofty sentiments and the willingness to do what is right regardless of personal consequences.

    The film takes place in Greece in the 1920s when the country was occupied by the Turks and entire villages were torn apart. On the Island of Crete, a wealthy village has reached an accommodation with its Turkish governor (Gregoire Aslan) and is getting ready to stage its annual Passion Play on Good Friday, dramatizing the crucifixion. To do this, the autocratic local priest Grigoris (Fernand Ledoux) selects citizens in his village to play the leading roles. Manolios (Pierre Vaneck), a stuttering shepherd who works for the town’s well-to-do mayor (Gert Frobe) is chosen to play Jesus while the local butcher is chosen as Judas.

    The town prostitute (Melina Mercouri, later to be Jules Dassin’s wife) is chosen to play Mary Magdalene. Preparations for the Passion hardly get underway when a band of impoverished villagers led by Pope Fotis (Jean Servais) enters the streets of the village looking for food and shelter. Fearing Turkish retaliation if they aid the starving villagers, Grigoris and the mayor refuse requests for food and land to cultivate, evoking the fear of cholera and sending the dispossessed villagers to starve in the nearby hills. Some in the town, however, are sympathetic to the fugitives including the shepherd chosen to play Christ and the Mayor’s son (Maurice Ronet). As the film unfolds, the Passion Play soon becomes real and the characters play out their biblical roles in dramatic fashion.

    GRADE: A
    Last edited by Howard Schumann; 02-28-2010 at 11:08 PM.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

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