The Gospel According to St. Matthew (film)

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For the American film of The Gospel, see The Visual Bible: Matthew.
The Gospel According to Matthew
Pasolini Gospel Poster.jpg
Original Italian release poster
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Produced by Alfredo Bini
Written by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Based on Gospel of Matthew
Starring Enrique Irazoqui
Music by Luis Enríquez Bacalov
Carlo Rustichelli
Cinematography Tonino Delli Colli
Edited by Nino Baragli
Distributed by Titanus Distribuzione S.p.a.
Release dates
  • 4 September 1964 (1964-09-04) (Venice)
  • 2 October 1964 (1964-10-02) (Italy)
Running time
137 minutes[1]
Country Italy
Language Italian

The Gospel According to Matthew (Italian: Il Vangelo secondo Matteo) is a 1964 Italian biographical drama film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. It is a retelling of the story of Jesus Christ, from the Nativity through the Resurrection.

The dialogue is primarily taken directly from the Gospel of Matthew, as Pasolini felt that "images could never reach the poetic heights of the text."[2] He reportedly chose Matthew's Gospel over the others because he had decided that "John was too mystical, Mark too vulgar, and Luke too sentimental."[3]


In Palestine during the Roman Empire, Jesus Christ of Nazareth travels around the country with his disciples preaching to the people about God and salvation of their souls. He is the son of God and the prophesied messiah, but not everyone believes his tale. He is arrested by the Romans and crucified. He rises from the dead after three days.



Background and pre-production[edit]

In 1963, Pier Paolo Pasolini had depicted the life of Christ in his short film La ricotta, included in the omnibus film RoGoPaG, which led to controversy and a jail sentence for the allegedly blasphemous and obscene content in the film.[4] According to Barth David Schwartz’s book Pasolini Requiem (1992), the impetus for the film took place in 1962. Pasolini had accepted Pope John XXIII’s invitation for a new dialogue with non-Catholic artists, and subsequently visited the town of Assisi to attend a seminar at a Franciscan monastery there. The papal visit caused traffic jams in the town, leaving Pasolini confined to his hotel room; there, he came across a copy of the New Testament. Pasolini read all four Gospels straight through, and he claimed that adapting a film from one of them "threw in the shade all the other ideas for work I had in my head."[5] Unlike previous cinematic depictions of Jesus' life, Pasolini's film does not embellish the biblical account with any literary or dramatic inventions, nor does it present an amalgam of the four Gospels (subsequent films which would adhere as closely as possible to one Gospel account are 1979's Jesus, based on the Gospel of Luke, and 2003's The Gospel of John). Pasolini stated that he decided to "remake the Gospel by analogy" and the film's sparse dialogue all comes directly from the Bible.[6]

Given Pasolini's well-known reputation as an atheist, a homosexual, and a Marxist, the reverential nature of his film was surprising[to whom?], especially after the controversy of La ricotta. At a press conference in 1966, Pasolini was asked why he, an unbeliever, had made a film which dealt with religious themes; his response was, "If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief."[7] The film begins with an announcement that it is "dedicato alla cara, lieta, familiare memoria di Giovanni XXIII" ("dedicated to the dear, joyous, familiar memory of Pope John XXIII"), as John XXIII was indirectly responsible for the film's creation, but had died before its completion.

Filming and style[edit]

Pasolini employed some of the techniques of Italian neorealism in the making of his film. Most of the actors he hired were non-professionals. Enrique Irazoqui (Jesus) was a 19-year-old economics student from Spain, and the rest of the cast were mainly locals from Barile, Matera, and Massafra, where the film was shot (Pasolini visited the Holy Land but found the locations unsuitable and "commercialized").[8] Pasolini cast his own mother, Susanna, as the elderly mother of Jesus. The cast also included noted intellectuals such as writers Enzo Siciliano and Alfonso Gatto, poets Natalia Ginzburg and Juan Rodolfo Wilcock, and philosopher Giorgio Agamben. In addition to the original biblical source, Pasolini used references to "2,000 years of Christian painting and sculptures" throughout the film. The look of the characters is also eclectic and, in some cases, anachronistic, resembling artistic depictions of different eras (the costumes of the Roman soldiers and the Pharisees, for example, are influenced by Renaissance art, whereas Jesus' appearance has been likened to that in Byzantine art as well as the work of Expressionist artist Georges Rouault).[6] Pasolini later described the film as "the life of Christ plus 2,000 years of storytelling about the life of Christ."[9]

Pasolini described his experience filming The Gospel According to Matthew as very different from his previous films. He stated that while his shooting style on his previous film Accattone was "reverential," when his shooting style was applied to a biblical source it "came out rhetorical. ... And then when I was shooting the baptism scene near Viterbo I threw over all my technical preconceptions. I started using the zoom, I used new camera movements, new frames which were not reverential, but almost documentary [combining] an almost classical severity with the moments that are almost Godardian, for example in the two trials of Christ shot like "cinema verite." ... The Point is that ... I, a non-believer, was telling the story through the eyes of a believer. The mixture at the narrative level produced the mixture stylistically."[6]


The score of the film is eclectic, ranging from Johann Sebastian Bach (e.g. Mass in B Minor and St Matthew Passion) to Odetta ("Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child"), to Blind Willie Johnson ("Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground"), to the Jewish ceremonial declaration "Kol Nidre" and the "Gloria" from the Congolese Missa Luba. Pasolini stated that all of the film's music was of a sacred or religious nature from all parts of the world and multiple cultures or belief systems.[6]


The film received mostly good reviews from critics, including several Christian critics. Philip French called it "a noble film," and Alexander Walker said that "it grips the historical and psychological imagination like no other religious film I have seen. And for all its apparent simplicity, it is visually rich and contains strange, disturbing hints and undertones about Christ and his mission."[9]

Some Marxist film critics gave the film poor reviews. Oswald Stack criticized the films "abject concessions to reactionary ideology." In response to criticism from the far left, Pasolini admitted that in his opinion "there are some horrible moments I am ashamed of. ... The Miracle of the loaves and the fishes and Christ walking on water are disgusting Pietism." He also stated that the film was "a reaction against the conformity of Marxism. The mystery of life and death and of suffering — and particularly of religion ... is something that Marxists do not want to consider. But these are and have always been questions of great importance for human beings."[9]

The Gospel According to Matthew was ranked number 10 (in 2010) and number 7 (in 2011) in the Arts and Faith website's Top 100 Films,[10] also is in the Vatican's list of 45 great films and Roger Ebert's Great Movies list.[11][12]

The film currently has an approval rating of 94% on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with 30 "fresh" and 2 "rotten" reviews.[13]


At the 1964 Venice Film Festival, The Gospel According to Matthew was screened in competition for the Golden Lion, and won the OCIC Award and the Special Jury Prize. At the film's premiere, a crowd gathered to boo Pasolini but cheered him after the film was over. The film later won the Grand Prize at the International Catholic Film Office.[9]

The Gospel According to Matthew was released in the United States in 1966 and was nominated for three Academy Awards: Art Direction (Luigi Scaccianoce), Costume Design (Danilo Donati), and Score.[14]

Alternate versions[edit]

The 2007 Region 1 DVD release from Legend Films features a colorized, English-dubbed version of the film, in addition to the original, black-and-white Italian-language version. (The English-dubbed version is significantly shorter than the original, with a running time of 91 minutes — roughly 40 minutes shorter than the standard version.)


  1. ^ "THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 4 November 1964. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  2. ^ [1][dead link]
  3. ^ [2][dead link]
  4. ^ Wakeman. John. World Film Directors, Volume 2. The H. W. Wilson Company. 1988. pp. 746.
  5. ^ Roger Ebert (14 March 2004). "The Gospel According to St. Matthew". Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d Wakeman. pp. 746.
  7. ^ "Pasolini". Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  8. ^ lchadbou-326-26592 (11 July 1965). "Sopralluoghi in Palestina per il vangelo secondo Matteo (1965)". IMDb. Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c d Wakeman. pp. 747.
  10. ^ "Arts & Faith Top 100: The Gospel According to Matthew". Arts & Faith. Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  11. ^ "USCCB - (Film and Broadcasting) - Vatican Best Films List". United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  12. ^ Roger Ebert (14 March 2004). "The Gospel According to St. Matthew Movie Review (1964)". Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  13. ^ The Gospel According to St. Matthew at Rotten Tomatoes
  14. ^ "Movie Review - The Gospel According to St Matthew - Screen:The Life of Jesus:Pasolini's Film Opens at the Fine Arts -". Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  • Bart Testa, "To Film a Gospel ... and Advent of the Theoretical Stranger," in Patrick Rumble and Bart Testa (eds.), Pier Paolo Pasolini: Contemporary Perspectives. University of Toronto Press, Inc., 1994, pp. 180–209. ISBN 0-8020-7737-4.
  • "Pasolini, Il Cristo dell'Eresia (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo). Sacro e censura nel cinema di Pier Paolo Pasolini (Edizioni Joker, 2009) by Erminia Passannanti, ISBN 978-88-7536-252-2

External links[edit]

Preceded by
The Fire Within
tied with Introduction to Life
Special Jury Prize, Venice
tied with Hamlet
Succeeded by
Simon of the Desert, I Am Twenty
and Modiga Mindre Män