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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Drama > Religion > Jesus Of Montreal

Jesus Of Montreal (Jésus de Montréal)


Picture: C-     Sound: C-     Extras: D     Film: A



Welcome to Christ-fest 2005.  Well, at least that’s what the recent American media would have you think.  It seems like no matter what happens, the Catholic Church is always in the media spotlight.  Okay, yes, yes, most of it is bad press, what with all the child molestation charges being brought against priests.  But even in this time where the church is constantly scrutinized, the media bolsters support and faith in the Catholic Church in the form of film.  And in case you’ve been living under a rock in a cave near the center of the Earth for the past three years, then you might not have heard of a little film called The Passion later renamed The Passion of Christ, directed by a man named Mel Gibson.  This film released on Ash Wednesday* in 2004 struck a chord amongst millions of viewers, many of whom claimed to be reborn upon seeing the film as it opened their eyes to their sinful lives and made them want to be better people.  Some people, after seeing this film, even confessed to heinous crimes they had committed!  And here we are, a year later, and the buzz surrounding this film still hasn’t died down.  In this heavy awards season, many people wonder why it was left out of all the major award categories.  The film itself, has lent itself to numerous parodies, most notably the South Park episode “The Passion of the Jew” in which Cartman forms an organization to get people to see the film in order to spread the word that Jews are evil.  This is in part due to the fact that the film received harsh criticism for its rather evil depiction of Jews.  Even still, Kevin Smith is set to begin filming in April 2005 for his sequel to his hit indie flick Clerks, entitled The Passion of the Clerks.  So with all this recent press for Catholicism and its ties to film, its easy to see why Koch Lorber Films would want to get in on this “Catholic bandwagon” and release Canadian director Denys Arcand’s 1989 critically-acclaimed film, Jesus of Montreal.


Jesus of Montreal begins when Father Leclerc (Gilles Pelletier), a Catholic priest, seeks the help of a young actor-director named Daniel Coloumbe (Lothaire Bluteau) to help revitalize the church’s annual Passion play, a play that looks at the final hours of Christ’s life.  After over 30 years, the play’s traditional style has lost its zip and Father Leclerc needs Daniel to come up with a new take on it to bring in an audience.  Daniel begins his search to recruit fellow actors to help him realize his new vision.  He first chooses Constance (Johanne-Marie Tremblay), an actress from the original Passion play who Father Leclerc believes could help Daniel envision the play.  She next helps him recruit Martin (Rémy Girard), an actor who dubs American pornographic films in French, Mireille (Catherine Wilkening), a commercial actress who gets parts thanks to her physical attributes rather than her talent, and René (Robert Lepage), a thespian actor who will only join the troupe if they can incorporate Hamlet’s famous soliloquy in the Passion play.  They may not be the most ideal actors to portray Biblical characters, but Daniel sees something in them that he believes makes them the perfect choice. With the troupe formed, they soon begin their play, which, suffice to say is far more radical than Father Leclerc ever thought possible.  The play incorporates historical and archeological evidence into it, which challenges the spiritual and religious elements of the play.  Soon, the play is at odds with the Catholic Church, and the two sides enter into a battle over the right to perform the play.


The film is absolutely spectacular.  Denys Arcand, the writer-director, is brilliant here in his incorporation of Christ’s life mirroring the events in Daniel’s life as Daniel tries to get the play off the ground.  Several elements of Christ’s life can be seen in what Daniel does.  In fact, what the film becomes is quite an allegory to the life of Christ.  All the actors do excellent in their portrayals of their characters.  Lothaire Bluteau, who plays Daniel, really takes to Christ, both physically and mentally.  In fact, watching his performance makes it hard to distinguish if he is playing Christ, or if he is Daniel playing Christ.  At times, his performance can seem a bit over-the-top as you wonder what is really motivating his actions, but these moments are overshadowed by his otherwise exceptional performance.  The simplicity of the story and the poignant nature it embodies makes for a truly moving, and at often times humorous, film experience.


Jesus of Montreal comes in a single-disc Amaray case with no insert.  The menus on this DVD are nicely animated.  The movie comes in a variety of play styles, each with different audio options.  As well, the movie is broken up into chapters.


However, I have the sad duty of saying that the technical aspects of this otherwise fantastic film really bring the quality of the DVD down.  The video is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, or full frame.  It’s hard for me to even mention that, as it’s widely accepted in the DVD community that if the film was shot in a widescreen format that it should be also presented this way on DVD.  Even today, when a full frame version of a film is available on DVD, it is only because the widescreen version is also available.  But unfortunately, this isn’t the only poor point.  The video looks as if it was transferred directly from an old VHS source, because of all the imperfections visible on the print.  The color looks low and occasionally washed out.  Grain, dirt, debris, blemishes, white dots, and black dots all abound in the video.  There are even a few moments where it was obvious that the digital video noise reduction process that was done to this print was poorly done.  See, digital video noise reduction (DVNR) is a good thing when it is done well.  It can remove grain, dirt, and debris from prints.  But it also can do something called edge enhancement that is generally bad and never done correctly, as it creates a haloing effect around lines.  And sometimes what can also happen is that the DVNR process might not be able to distinguish between what should be there and what shouldn’t be there, and sometimes fixes stuff that wad there on purpose.  Case in point: one scene in particular that stands out is a conversation that takes place on a balcony.  The hair of all the actors suddenly looks like it was replaced by the thick, black, plastic-type hair you’d find on a Fisher-Price® toy.  But the one thing that killed me, and I mean really killed me, was that the original change-over dots from the film print appears in the upper right-hand corner!  This is just insane to have!  For those of you who don’t know, change-over dots are present on film reels in movie theaters that let the projectionist know that there is only six-seconds left on the reel so you need to get ready to switch to the next one.  The changeover dots should only ever be seen in a movie theater and never on a DVD.


The audio is far from stellar, as well.  The audio is presented in French 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround or in French and English 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo Surround.  Also included are English and Spanish subtitles, but then, why not even have French subtitles since that is the original audio.  Or, why have Spanish subtitles if a Spanish audio track isn’t even available?  And as you might have noticed, yes, I did mention that there is an English audio track for those of you who prefer to watch a film with dubbed tracks.  This audio is also a rare instance in which the 2.0 Dolby Digital sounds better than the 5.1 Dolby Digital.  But even then, it is not saying much as both tracks shared the same problems.  There were plenty of instances of static and distortion throughout the track, and there were even moments where there were crackling and popping sounds, especially in the middle of the film.  The 5.1 mix wasn’t much of a mix as it relied heavily on the center channel and mainly used the front speakers for music.  I had to press my ear up to my rear speakers to hear if anything was even coming out of them, and it was so faint that it didn’t make any difference.  The 2.0 mix is a little better only in the fact that it provides more clear and natural sounding voices.  The subtitles aren’t too fantastic either, as they come in a very bright yellow text that can distract attention from the film for a non-French speaking audience.  In fact, if you see the trailer that comes with the film, it comes with a nice, soft white subtitle text that incorporates nicely with the image and should have been used in the film, rather than the bright, yellow one.


Extras?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Nope, sorry, none here.  That is unless you count cast biographies, the original theatrical trailer, and a bevy of other trailers for titles available from Koch Lorber Films as extras, which I do not.  It would have been nice to get something, even an audio commentary, but alas, there is nothing.


It’s a shame that such a wonderful and poignant movie got such a shoddy DVD treatment.  It’s like I said earlier: Koch Lorber Films wanted to get in on the “Catholic bandwagon” so they put this film on DVD as quickly as possible.  But when watching this DVD it is apparent just how quickly they put the film on DVD as they did next to nothing to fix it up.  I won’t normally do this for a DVD review, but while I highly recommend the film to everyone as must-see viewing material, I suggest you save yourself the cash and get the film on VHS as opposed to DVD, because honestly, either way, you’re going to get the same video and audio quality.



-   Antonio Lopez



* Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent in the Catholic faith.  It is a period of 40 days and 40 nights that precedes Easter Sunday where all members of the Catholic faith are to fast and take this time to reflect upon their lives.


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