Jesus of Montreal (1989): Denys Arcand’s Oscar Nominated Tale of Staging a Passion Play

Canadian (from Quebec) director Denys Arcand made this interesting film right after scoring with the international hit, The Decline of the American Empire, which was nominated for the 1987 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. and won many critics kudos.

This tale describes the efforts of a theater group in Montreal to stage a passion play, which becomes a reenactment of the life and death of Jesus Christ.

The charming Lothaire Bluteau stars as Daniel Coloumbe, an intense young actor hired by church fathers to restage and update the city’s annual passion play, which has begun to seem hidebound. Daniel hires a group of struggling young actors that become devoted to him.

The end result is a modernist, avant-garde production that nonetheless stays true to Christ’s preaching.

The movie unfolds as a series of set pieces, which reflect major events and passages from Christ’s life.

But Daniel’s revisionist work also incorporates what some consider as “blasphemous” ideas. Daniel’s work finds an appreciative audience, but the rigid church play officials raise serious objections.

Art imitates life and life imitates art: Soon the actors themselves become cast-outs and Daniel smashes up an audition in which the actress portraying Mary Magdalene (Catherine Wilkening) is asked to disrobe by a prurient producer.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar was the Italian sentimental favorite, Cinema Paradiso.

The other nominees were: Camille Claudel from France, starring Isabelle Adjani in an Oscar-nominated performance, Waltzing Regitze from Denmark, and What Happened to Santiago from Puerto Rico.