Monday, December 24, 2012

Capsule Film Reviews: The Nativity Story

It is almost Christmas, the solstice holiday during which Christians celebrate the birth of their son of god and saviour Jesus. I am not a Christian but I am a cinephile and as a lover of films I have seen a lot of movies, most of them Hollywood epics, about Jesus and the birth of Christianity including the silent King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMllle, 1927), the sound era King of Kings (MGM, Nicholas Ray, 1961), The Greatest Story Ever Told (United Artists, George Stevens, 1965), Quo Vadis (MGM, Mervin LeRoy, 1951), and The Robe (20th Century Fox, Henry Koster, 1953). Today I watched director Catherine Hardwicke's and writer Mick Rich's The Nativity Story (New Line, 2006).

The Nativity Story tells a tale that is as old as the gospels of Luke and Matthew on which it draws. Unlike most of its epic predecessors The Nativity Story tells the tale of the birth of Jesus on a small and, thanks to a number of historical advisers and perhaps Hartwicke who directed the realistic teen drama Thirteen (Fox Searchlight, 2003) before The Nativity Story and Rich, who once worked as a journalist, on a realistic scale. In The Nativity Story you can see the wear and tear on poor people's--and most of the people in the film are poor--clothes and in their faces. You can see the dirt on Joseph's (Oscar Isaac) feet as he and Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) journey from poor Nazareth to poor Bethlehem as the census of Caesar Augustus demands. You can hear the pain in Elizabeth's voice as she gives birth to John the Baptist. And you can see the sweat on Mary's face as she gives birth to Jesus.

It is the small scale and the supernatural realism of The Nativity Story which makes the film an interesting retelling of a very familiar story for those of us in the West even non-Christians like myself. I give the film two and a half to three stars out of four.

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