Picks and Pans Review: Jesus of Montreal

updated 06/11/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/11/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Lothaire Bluteau

Let's reconsider the proposition that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. For one thing, there are probably more scorned women in purgatory—shrinks' offices, anyway—than there are in hell. For another, it would be hard to outdo the fury of a lapsed Catholic who apparently thinks his prayers weren't answered expeditiously enough.

Such, it would seem, is the writer-director of this furious, often furiously funny film, Canadian Denys (The Decline of the American Empire) Arcand. In a satirical updating of the Bible, Arcand's plot has a mysterious young man, Bluteau, come to Montreal, where a priest asks him to form a troupe and modernize a Passion play.

The modernization takes wide liberties with the Gospels, such as having Jesus be the son of a Roman soldier. Meanwhile, Arcand runs through his own versions of Genesis (a lecture on the big-bang theory of the universe), hell (a subway station) and crucifixion (Bluteau splayed across a bed in a hospital emergency room). There are allusions to a fornicating priest, church bureaucracy and commercialization of religion.

Arcand's cast makes his story work. Bluteau, somber and gaunt, looks enough like traditional renderings of Christ to carry off the parallel. Catherine Wilkening, as a model who has never acted, and Johanne-Marie Tremblay, in a Mary Magdalenish role, are ingratiating. So are Robert Le-page, first seen overdubbing two men's voices for a group-sex scene in a porn film, and Rémy Girard, who wants to recite a passage from Hamlet in the Passion play.

Though the ending ingeniously incorporates New Testament theology, it's not likely to redeem Arcand to Fundamentalists—or to liberal Christians either. Let he who is without critical thoughts about his religion cast the first stone. (R)

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