Great film. Only slightly dated too.
The premise is an actor is hired to put on a Passion play for a Catholic church. The priest has little faith himself and gives the actor free reign to hire who he wants and make any necessary changes to bring the play up to date.
The actors eventually feel the work is very significant and important.
Warning: one small scene of nudity – you’ll know when.
The priest is admittedly a “bad” priest, but believes “a bad priest is still a priest” and won’t give up his position despite his failings and discontentment. He believes a person “should live happily as long as possible.” His only conviction seems to be that the Church serves the emotional needs of people who can’t afford psychoanalysis or drugs elsewhere.
He is the modern Pharisee for the most part.
The “Jesus” character first gathers his followers starting w/ a single mother serving in a soup kitchen. She agrees to follow/support him and gives him a place to stay since “the son of man has no place to lie his head.” We find out she’s the priests mistress (adulterer) too.
Next he gathers other followers who are a group of misfits for various reasons resembling Jesus’ followers.
The play is quite liberal and questions many of the claims of Jesus’ life. The priest is worried about what his superiors will think and ultimately they try to shut down the play though the audiences/critics love it.
The actors all finally feel they are working on something meaningful and are more passionate about their “church” of acting. This includes a scene w/ one follower trying out for a “beer” commercial (which cdn’t have been more blatant talking about how society “worships” beer and physical beauty, etc., but still great, that was the point).
Their insistance that she take her clothes off is such an insult in the Jesus character’s “temple” that he has to over turn the tables and cleanse the house including whipping the “officials” w/ a whip of cords.
They go on w/ the play, but it is disrupted by security during the crucifixtion and thru an accident, the cross is knocked over and “Jesus” is hurt and taken to the hospital. His believers are somewhat scattered and there’s little help amoung “His people” (St. Mark’s hospital).
He begins to feel better and leaves though he starts his descent into the lower realms and darkness mentioning being forsaken by his father. He preaches to those standing idle underground being watched over by their master (and popular actor on a dard billboard for perfume).
He collapses and again those around him all scatter except for the two women. This time he’s taken by Jews (the Jewish hospital) who care for his dead body. Ultimately, thru his death, others around the world are given life: a heart to an American, eyes to an Italian, etc.
This description may make the movie sound heavy handed and obvious, but I think they make it work well. The characters are good and their transformation is passionate. Early in the movie their attitude is literally “que sera sera” and by the end they are determined to continue w/ the work, establish an institution in their leader’s memory and keep it free from defilment and compromise (though it is led by a clearly superficial lawyer – so great).
There are so many good scenes and shots in this movie that I think I’d have to watch it a few times to pick up on even more. Like a scene where they are all eating on the mountain and try to feed the guard who comes up. Just a part of a larger scene, but the details are great: the movement in the scenes (going up and down especially: stairs, escalators, buildings, etc.).