Monday, December 26, 2011

The Nativity Story

2006, PG, 101 min.
IMDB says... A drama that focuses on the period in Mary and Joseph's life where they journeyed to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus.

The 73rd Virgin says... And there you are. I was pleasantly relieved at how watchable this is. What a lot of pitfalls it could have stumbled into, and yet it is respectful, reasonably entertaining, short, and satisfying for anyone not too uncomfortable with the Gospels of Luke or Matthew, at least.

Yes, there are many mildly dramatic flourishes that are not in “scripture”, for example, a river snake that dumps the pregnant Mary into the drink, day to day indignities and atrocities committed by Roman soldiers and tax collectors, etc. But all the high points are there, and, more importantly, there are no (in my opinion) overtly stupid or politically correct posturings that would anger or offend the deeply churched or deeply agnostic. I'm not good at judging others' ease of angering, so I may be wrong. I would have preferred that Jesus have an umbilical cord - "word made flesh" and all that - but what am I, a pathologist?

The pace remains stately throughout giving time for Keisha Castle-Hughes' pretty but solemn face to register and then tolerate the miracles she has had dumped on her, as well as Oscar Isaac as Joseph to react carefully and then honorably when he discovers his betrothed is knocked up. As her mother observes, “women have been put to death for this”.

What little I remember from grade school tells me the re-creation of life in Nazareth is pretty good. Everyone lives in square rock houses; Mom and Dad sleep on the highest and softest rocks; everyone fears the Romans and lives steeped in Jewish tradition; everyone harvests meager fruits from dry, dusty trees. There are no blondes.

All the acting is fine. Apart from the two principles, we get Ciaran Hinds (again?) as a wily, grasping, King Herod, and Alessandro Giuggioli as his soft-eyed, silent and murderous son, Herod Antipas.

Plus Iranian star Shohreh Aghdashloo as John the Baptist's mother, Elizabeth, and three charmingly generic ethnic wise men to provide what little comic relief is needed. These wise men, only found in Matthew, are more from the medieval or Alexandrian tradition in that they are given names, Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar. What would a nativity story be without our favorite nativity characters? (well, supporting characters - whoops!) Especially since Balthazar is played by French bad guy Eriq Ebouaney of “The Horde”. How cool is that?

Finally - and most blessedly - the movies does NOT end with one of those awful hand-in-the-air, minor key soft Christian rock songs about an awesome God. Instead the music remains stately and organic through the end credits. Needless to say, there is a CD of such tripe “inspired” by the film, but it keeps its ghastly paws off the movie.

A classy, affirming production all around. I'm amazed and grudgingly impressed that Hollywood could pull it off.

P.S. Now I read that Keisha Castle-Hughes and her 19 year-old boyfriend had her first baby in 2007 when she was 17. Oh, for God's sake....

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