The movie starts of well with a heaven meets earth type of scene in space.
The nativity story is well known and there is a natural skepticism for a movie like this in that you figure you know the story and the events that took place.
The other thing that can go wrong with a movie like this is that you would feel too remote from the characters who might seem larger than life and it is difficult to forge any kind of connection that would in any way relate to the present days.
On these two levels, the movie brings us past those problems and helps us get further into the story and how some of the surrounding circumstances of the story might have been.
What this film does, is help fill in those imaginary gaps, as to what the setting might have been like, and how some of these events that took place might have appeared and felt for the characters involved.
Joseph is portrayed more on equal terms with Mary, not only in terms of actions but in terms of his intentions and in what he wanted.
Mary, portrayed by an actress that seems particularly young on screen, is shown to have native intelligence and wisdom, that she brings forth early in life, wisdom that doesn’t seem so overbearing that it is unnatural, but enough to where she is able to grasp in the moment what to do.
A particularly poignant scene, is where she is in the lush gardens in the beautiful late morning sun, and in the moment the appearance of the angel is first foreshadowed by movements in the sunlight and then the sudden appearance. Mary, in this visitation maintains her personal presence and states her position, “How can this be’? But so quickly, she reads and discerns the truth of the message and says," Let it be so’. The moment seems thrust upon her so suddenly, yet she was able to meet with the moment with grace.
Mary then visits her cousin Elizabeth, where she stays alone in the next room. She had intitially resisted briefly the idea of being betrothed to Joseph, whom she says she hardly knows, but then agrees. Subsequently, she has the visitation from the angel and right after visits her cousin for an extended stay, where you really get the feel that Mary is an observer, knowing but not above anything, and also alone. This contrasts quite interestingly to a scene where she arrives with Joseph to the crowded village, and smiles seemingly happy to have the company of Joseph in this moment and you could picture her going into that same scene alone and not having that smile. What this movie really portrays well is the importance of Joseph as a companion to Mary, and the help he offers her.
Earlier, when Joseph finds Mary is pregnant, her parents are discussing the matter with her. Of course, they don’t believe the story that she had no man. Joseph, who is standing nearby, asks to speak with her. He doesn’t understand but says he will make no accusation against her. But the moment shows how his interest in her wasn’t obligatory but extremely important to what he actually wanted.
King Herod, was excellently portrayed. He stands with the background of Jerusalem as a high city, speaking to his son in ominous fashion, about the threat of a coming Messiah, who they believed at this point was a young man. You see in him the repeated story, of power having no bounds, and any means to hold on to power is justified.
Later, he corrals the three wise men, and offers them to dine and discuss. There the three wise men seem put at ease, and Herod shows his diplomatic skills and finds that the wise men are speaking of a child Messiah for now. The non verbals in this scene at the round table are excellent and it seems the wise men where subtly tipped off that something wasn’t kosher.
As Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem, we are shown a very interesting setup of how this town might have looked like in that time during the middle of the day, with multiple dwellings that were rather sharp with firm doorways, closed for the moment to Mary and Joseph and the distress that Mary was having as she was going into childbirth. Again, as this movie often does, this pictorial offers a view that helps us fill in those imaginary gaps as to what Bethlehem might have looked like. You get the sense that Mary and Joseph were a team here but there wasn’t much help in the moment from any others.
Later, at the birth of the child Jesus, signs and wonders appear and sheperds and soon after the wise men are at the manger to see the child.
Later as the wise men are leaving they choose in the moment not to turn back and bring the news to Herod, reaching this conclusion jointly.
On the earlier journey to Bethlehem, we have a scene where the donkey falls in the water from the appearance of a snake, and Mary ends up in the churning waters, and Joseph brings her to a rock and they both in the moment catch their breath on the rock by the shore. An interesting portrayal of the humanity of each, and how they might have shared some rough moments in their travels as well.
Although we know the basics of the story, the peripherals are not clear and maybe difficult even to imagine. This is where this movie helps, the acting was excellent all around and wasn’t overdone and comes into a nice range in terms of subtleties. Helping this movie is at times some stunning visuals, excellent photography, spectacular scenery filmed in Morocco, and a fairly awesome soundtrack.
This movie is worthwhile to see for the Christmas season and in helping form an additional backdrop to your own personal understanding of what might have been back then.
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