The emphasis in this adaptation of the New Testament Gospel is on a political reading of the text rather than a reverential one. One of the most lucid works by Marxist filmmaker and writer Pier Paolo Pasolini, his characteristic passion for the beauty of the ordinary – whether in close-ups of the actors, or wide shots of the Calabrian landscape – is augmented by a marked resistance to the spectacular. Even Christ’s miraculous healing of the sick is conveyed using nothing more complicated than editing.
The film was photographed in stark black and white by his frequent collaborator Tonino Delli Colli, and performed by a cast of non-professional actors including the director’s own mother as Mary, and Spanish economics student Enrique Irazoqui as Christ. Only the exalted soundtrack – featuring Bach, Mozart, and Billie Holliday among other – counterpoints the film’s spare, realist style.