The gospel according to the great film director promotes an earthbound and realistic philosophy of fundamental human values
Given the Catholic church's current crimes and the resignation of Benedict XVI, it appears somewhat providential that Pier Paolo Pasolini's controversial film of 1964 has just been re-released.
A communist and homosexual, Pasolini accepted an invitation from John XXIII to contribute to the post-second world war dialogue to modernise the church at a time when Italy was split between fascists, hiding behind Catholicism, and communism. Yet some on both sides had a complementary interest in promoting basic human values.
As in the period of the painter Caravaggio, when artists were encouraged to represent religious subjects in an accessible way, Pasolini tried to illuminate the spiritual essence of Matthew's gospel in a realist style featuring working people in southern Italy.
Opening with a beautiful Madonna it deals with the early life before Jesus (Enrique Irazoqui) emerges to preach the politics of the sermon on the mount.
Although shot in monochrome, it references Renaissance classics, Byzantium icons and is accompanied by Bach and US gospel songs.
The film shocked sectarians on both sides of the political divide with the church, including evangelical Protestants, proving more amenable than some "Marxists" in calling it reactionary.
Pasolini's film idealises an individual who espouses mass subservience to a supreme being and many of the miracle scenes are corny, as the director later agreed. Yet it still fascinates because it's beautifully crafted and its vitriol is aimed at contemporary Scribes and Pharisees - the enemies of all revolution.