Since Thomas Edison’s invention of the modern cinema, countless filmmakers have endeavored to produce a moving picture that accurately chronicles the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. Aside from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which chronicled only a part of the life and crucifixion of Jesus, Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth is the greatest of all. Originally aired as a television mini-series (it’s over six hours in length), the film closely adheres to the word-for-word accounts found in the Gospels.
The story begins with Joseph (Yorgo Voyagis) and Mary’s (Olivia Hussey) reception of God’s angels. Each is told of the child that Mary will bear and what his name will be. The scene where Mary receives her message is an especially powerful piece of cinematic artistry with no dialogue – only a warm light surrounding Mary as she bows in prayer. The film holds true to every utterance in the Gospels, recounting the census, Herod’s decree, and the travels of Joseph and Mary.
As Jesus (Robert Powell) develops into adulthood, we witness the beginning of his ministry. He calls on his disciples, teaches through use of parables, and displays many miracles. Zeffirelli makes powerful use of the camera by having his star, Powell, never be caught blinking in any scene. At first, it’s barely noticeable, and it takes some time to figure out what is so different. But this absence of the uniformly common trait of blinking creates a divine aura around the character of Jesus. It draws in the audience by creating an emotional sense of peace that lends credibility to the onscreen portrayal of Jesus.
From beginning to end, Jesus of Nazareth offers a plethora of memorable scenes and exchanges which are more attributable to the Gospels and the actual life of Jesus rather than brilliant direction and acting ability. But the subject matter is aptly handled by a great production team and an endless array of first-rate actors and actresses, among them are – Mary Magdalene (Anne Bancroft), the Centurion (Ernest Borgnine), Simon Peter (James Farentino), Balthazar (James Earl Jones), Joseph of Arimathea (James Mason), Nicodemus (Laurence Olivier), Caiaphas (Anthony Quinn), and many others… Overall, the individual performances come together to form a rich tapestry of wisdom and intrigue that will leave its audience with much upon which to reflect and ponder.
If you believe Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah (which this author does), then Jesus of Nazareth serves as a form of meditation and renewal of one’s spiritual connection to God. But if you don’t view Jesus in this way, no other film will leave you in such awe of the profound influence promulgated by a humble, sandal-clan man from a province on the outskirts of mighty Rome – an influence that has completely dominated the world for almost two thousand years to the present day.
For spiritual, philosophical, and cinematic reasons, Jesus of Nazareth is a definite must-see film for the ages…