Jesus of Montreal

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Jesus of Montreal
Jesus of Montreal FilmPoster.jpeg
DVD Artwork
Directed by Denys Arcand
Produced by Monique Létourneau
Written by Denys Arcand
Starring Lothaire Bluteau
Catherine Wilkening
Johanne-Marie Tremblay (fr)
Music by Yves Laferriere
Cinematography Guy Dufaux
Edited by Isabelle Dedieu
Distributed by Koch-Lorber (Region 1 DVD)
Release dates
  • 17 May 1989 (1989-05-17)
Running time
118 minutes
Country Canada
Language French

Jesus of Montreal (French: Jésus de Montréal) is a 1989 Canadian film directed by Denys Arcand. It won numerous awards, including the Genie Award for Best Picture and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival.[1] The film was also nominated for the 1989 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.[2] It is widely considered one of the best Canadian films of all time.[3]

Plot and allegory[edit]

The film centres on a group of actors in Montreal, Canada who are gathered by Daniel, an actor hired by a Roman Catholic site of pilgrimage ("le sanctuaire") to present a Passion play in its gardens.

The sanctuary is implied to be Saint Joseph's Oratory (although this organization actually refused permission to film there). In fact, the idea for the film came to its director after an actor apologized for appearing with a beard at an audition. The actor explained that he had the role of Jesus in a passion play at St-Joseph's Oratory. Arcand went to see the play and recalls "I saw actors in a mediocre production which received shouted applause from the tourists. I decided I had to make a film".[4]

The actors' interpretation of the life of Jesus is unconventional (including, for example, the statement that the biological father of Jesus was a Roman soldier, who left Palestine shortly afterwards). Still, it draws on current academic theories and research. The challenging production becomes the toast of the city. The higher authorities of the religious order that controls the sanctuary (or of the Roman Catholic Church, this is left vague) strongly object to this Biblical interpretation, and forcefully stop a performance.

The audience and actors object to the stoppage and Daniel is injured in an ensuing accident. He is first taken by ambulance to a Catholic hospital. He is completely neglected there and leaves. He then collapses on a Montreal Metro platform. The same ambulance takes him to Jewish General Hospital. Despite immediate, skilled, and energetic efforts by the doctors and nurses to revive him, Daniel is pronounced brain-dead. Daniel's doctor asks for the consent of his friends to take Daniel's organs for donation (since Daniel has no known relatives). Daniel's physician states that the staff would have been able to save him, if he had been brought to them half an hour earlier.

The film is structured so that Daniel's story parallels that of Christ. Some of the points of contact are:

  • Daniel has returned to Montreal after spending a long period travelling in "the East".
  • Contradictory and uncertain stories are told about Daniel's life story.
  • In the opening scene, one actor points to Daniel, calling him "a much better actor", which echoes John the Baptist foretelling the arrival of Jesus the Messiah.
  • The first actor later "sells-out" and lets his head be used in an advertisement, paralleling John the Baptist's beheading.
  • The actors then gather for the Passion play, some of them leaving safe jobs to do so, recalling Jesus gathering the disciples.
  • Daniel wrecks an advertising casting session, where the casting director enjoys humiliating participants, and displays deep contempt for them. This is a parallel of when Jesus casts the money-lenders out of the Temple.
  • Daniel's arrest and court appearance before an indecisive judge, played by the film's director himself, parallels Jesus' appearance before Pontius Pilate.
  • The smooth elite lawyer, who lays out a grand commercial career for Daniel, looking down from a skyscraper at the city, refers to the temptation of Christ by the devil atop a high pinnacle.
  • Daniel is disconnected from his life support at the Jewish General Hospital, mirroring the Christian belief that Jews killed Jesus
  • The Good Samaritan Parable applauds the Samaritan - an outsider of the community to which Jesus preaches - for behaving as a true neighbour should. Daniel is not helped at the Catholic hospital - his own community - but is instead helped at the Anglo-Jewish hospital - a religious and linguistic group very different from Daniel's.
  • The resurrection of Jesus is depicted as the donation of Daniel's organs, which live on in the lives of others.
  • Daniel's eyes are used to "heal" the blind.
  • The founding of the Christian church is portrayed as the starting of an experimental theatre company, which is "incorporated".

Locations used for filming[edit]

There are a few shots in the film of the exterior of Saint Joseph's Oratory, taken from a distance. However, the interior church scenes were filmed in Montreal’s Church of St. Michael and St. Anthony. The exterior scenes of the sanctuary gardens were mainly filmed in areas which had not yet been built upon, around the Université de Montréal’s engineering school, the École Polytechnique de Montréal. The exterior scenes around a statue of Jesus were filmed at what was then the location of Marianopolis College, at 3880 Côte-des-Neiges Road.



Jesus of Montreal won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival[1] and the Genie Award for Best Canadian Film of 1989; also Best Director, Screenplay, Actor (Bluteau), Supporting Actor (Girard), Art Direction, Costumes, Cinematography, Editing, Musical Score and Sound. It won the Golden Reel Award, and It has twice been placed second on the TIFF List of Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time, in 1993 and 2004.[3] It made the list again in 2015. It was nominated for the 1989 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.[2] In 2010 it was nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Film at the 1st Annual 20/20 Awards.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: Jesus of Montreal". Retrieved 2009-08-01. 
  2. ^ a b "The 62nd Academy Awards (1990) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 6 September 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time," The Canadian Encyclopedia, URL accessed 17 March 2013
  4. ^ Wah Keung Chan & Lilian I. Liganor "Réflexions Denys Arcand" 16 December 2007, La Scena musicale (Montréal), vol. 5(4), p. 25.(translation into English of Arcand's French)

External links[edit]