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Film and Religion: Adaptions and Transformations of the Passion Narrative in Film and Culture

Panel Chairs: Natalie Fritz, Marie-Therese Mäder | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m.

The panel focuses on adaptations and transformations of the Passion motif in film and culture and is theoretically embedded in the ongoing debate about processes of mediatization of religion (Hjarvard 2011, Lövheim/Linch 2011, Hoover 2011, Herbert/Gillespie 2011). Since the early days of cinema, this central narrative of the Gospels has continued to be retold, adapted to diverse cultural, social, and political contexts. Furthermore, filmic explorations of the Passion have been received in various cultures and combined with elements of other religious traditions. Considered from the perspective of the study of religion, the analysis of the passion in fiction film shows how religious motifs are transmitted in different socio-historical contexts and media (Belting, 2001; Panofsky 1993, Warburg 1998). Particularly interesting and challenging is the circulation and translocation of religious motifs outside the boundaries and the regulations strategies of religious institutions. These processes influence and transform the representations, the meanings and the values covered by the religious traditions and their institutions. The panel elaborates these processes within the framework of a diachronic and synchronic comparison. The panel chairs set up the topic by considering how the Passion narrative was adapted to the emerging medium of film in the silent era. The panel papers address the adaptation and transformation of the Passion narrative to different cultural spheres and geographical contexts through analysis of Italian, South Korean, and Indian productions.

Reinhold Zwick

Passion, Politics and Theology: IL VANGELO DI SECONDO MATTEO (Pier Paolo Pasolini, IT/FR 1964, 140’)

The relationship of religion and politics in the early 1960s was shaped not only by Vatican II, which opened the Catholic Church to the modern world, but also by the intensive contemporary dialogue between Christianity and socialism. This vibrant atmosphere was the context for Pier Paolo Pasolini’s version of Matthew’s gospel, which, although at first glance close to the biblical text, was drenched with the artist’s political and social opinions. Pasolini’s Jesus of Nazareth proved to be the very first social critical Messiah on screen, and in many ways this movie foreshadowed the “theology of liberation” that started in 1970 with Gustavo Gutierrez’s book of that title. With high cinematic artistry, Pasolini merged spirituality and politics, classical religious art and popular religion rooted in Italian Catholicism to create a unique masterpiece with timeless power.

Davide Zordan

Ruptures in Continuity: The Passion of Jesus in SU RE (Giovanni Columbu, IT 2013, ’92)

Discussion of Jesus in film must avoid simply providing an account of how a particular film conforms to or redefines traditional views of Jesus that are based on the New Testament and church traditions. In the European context, Italian cinema offers significant material for investigating challenging variations to the century-old tradition of Jesus in film, with productions identifying and transforming modern religious forms and cultures. This paper will focus on Giovanni Columbu’s SU RE (2013), where the dramatization of the Passion of Jesus provides a productive exchange with (a) evangelical and biblical sources; (b) the traditional Jesus-film canon; (c) the mythic potential of the Sardinian context; and (d) Christian faith in resurrection.

Daria Pezzoli-Olgiati

Interpreting the Financial Crisis with a Religious Visual Narrative. Cinematic Variations on a Christian Motif in PIETÀ (Kim Ki-duk, KR 2012, 104’)

The pietà belongs to the repertoire of filmic representations of the Passion. Engaging the consequences of the financial crisis in a South Korean metropolis, Kim Ki-duk’s PIETÀ re-enacts this motif in way that is both innovative and violent. The film assumes this central Christian visual narrative but also alienates it. The image of the mother weeping upon the body of her dead son is transformed into an allegory of abandonment, decay, and complete loss of confidence. In a collapsed capitalist system, material, moral, and emotional poverty dominates human relationships. The traditional religious motif becomes a lens for social critique. This paper examines the thick relationships of religious traditions and practices with art and film. Through complex transmission processes, a religious motif from a religious tradition is used within a global art-house production as a disconcerting visualization of economic and social decay.

Freek L. Bakker

Transfers between Religions in Indian Rama and Jesus Films

Box-office success requires the audience to be carried away into the narration of the film. Identification with the main protagonist(s) is one vehicle for such emotional engagement. The Indian religious and literary tradition also aims to identify its audience, or readership, with the main protagonist, in particular when that individual is divine. A literary work that enables identification with the divine is itself a way to salvation, a message that can also be found in Indian religious films. This paper will analyze how the suffering of Jesus and Rama in film, as principal and divine protagonists, becomes the means by which the audience can form such an identification with the divine.


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