The New Gospel (Das Neue Evangelium)
Somewhere in Milo Rau’s The New Gospel there is a poignant and bold message about modern slavery and Europe’s ongoing migrant crisis. But if viewers wish to get the briefest of glimpses of this, they’ll need to look past the plethora of self-righteous religious symbolism that makes up the prolonged and conceptually confused plot through which Rau chooses to tell his modernised version of Christ’s Passion.
Set in the historic Southern Italian city of Matera (the same location as Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ), Rau’s film sees real-life anti-slavery activist Yvan Sagnet in the role of a contemporary Jesus figure as he leads a politically charged movement – a “revolt of dignity” – to fight for fair wages and working conditions for the city’s migrant workers. Grounding this religious allegory in the very real struggle of refugees gives the feature a striking sense of authenticity; however, the impact of the director’s message is ultimately undone through his clumsy handling of the story’s biblical parallels.
Running adjacent to the contemporary fight for equality are scenes that depict the Messiah’s final days leading up to his crucifixion, with Sagnet taking both roles. At best, these sequences are already tenuously connected to the modern-day sections, but Rau confuses this metaphor by making these scenes part of a biblical film being shot in modern Matera, both timelines frequently bleeding together. It’s clear that Rau has something to say about the persecution of refugees, though this may not have been the best way to say it. Having these real people tell their stories is enough without mixing it in with a religious meta-narrative.
Aside from the perplexing way Rau chooses to present his tale, The New Gospel is simply dull. Poor performances, uninspired cinematography and painfully prolonged scenes that add nothing to the project (one of the best being a topless man aggressively whipping and beating a chair as part of an audition) fail to grab the viewers’ attention and interest.
The New Gospel is a theoretically interesting idea for a film that draws attention to a very real issue, but does so in a frustratingly confusing way which undercuts the intentions and creativity of the filmmaker.
The New Gospel (Das Neue Evangelium) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Venice Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
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