• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Thursday, June 01, 2017

    Le lit de la Vierge (The Virgin's Bed, 1969)


    Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful Jesus films if also one of the most likely to offend the devout, French auteur Philippe Garrel's Le lit de la Vierge (The Virgin's Bed) is and usual take on the life of Jesus. Filmed shortly after the May 1968 protests in Garrel's trademark high-contrast, black and white style, it follows a young Jesus round the countryside as he tries to work out his angst and sense of lost-ness. The imagery and characters (Jesus, his mother and Mary Magdalene) are clearly biblical but the events that unfold are only tangentially related. As with Garrel's Le révélateur (1967) the images are dreamy and surreal and you sense that to try to interpret each as if it were some sort of cipher is to miss the point.

    The film sits, both chronologically and stylistically, somewhere between Pasolini's Il vangelo secondo Matteo and the 1973 Jesus Christ Superstar, with the starkly beautiful black and white photography of the former and the rocky vibe and attitude of youthful rebellion of the latter. The second scene - a long tracking shot of Jesus riding a donkey down the middle of the street whilst being taunted by people riding on horses - accompanied by rock guitar, is perhaps the coolest shot of all biblical films. At other points the music is more accordion based - perhaps one of the sources of inspiration for the similarly surreal Little Baby Jesus of Flandr (2010).

    Some of the events that occur are easier to make sense of than others. Jesus is frequently rejected by those he meets, aside from Magdalene and, towards the end of the film, a small boy who asks him to open the large box he has begun to carry round on his shoulder. There' s a sense of foreboding about this, and the horrors that unfold when it is finally opened suggest Jesus has been carrying a sort of Pandora's box, containing the sins of the world. A Jesus type figure appears before Pilate, but it is only when they are dragged away that we realise it's not Jesus but Magdalene. The imagery here however suggests that this is not an attempt to radically revise the gospels as much as an attempt to appropriate the imagery of the gospels as metaphors relating to the failure May 1968.

    There's an interesting quote from Garrel on this aspect of the film on the Artfilms site:
    I believe my point of view on the Christian myth is quite clear in Le Lit de la Verge. It is a non-violent parable in which Zouzou incarnates both Mary and Mary Magdalene while Pierre Clementi incarnates a discouraged Christ who throws down his arms in face of world cruelty. In spite of its allegorical nature, the film contains a denunciation of the police repression of 1968, which was generally well understood by viewers at the time.
    There's also a quote there from Harvard's David Pendleton who says the film is only "minimally concerned with traditional religion" instead focusing on "the ways in which Garrel and his friends saw themselves as belonging to a kind of religious sect, engaging in ritual behavior.” I assume that the "friends" referred to here are those related with the Zanzibar Films Collective a group of directors and artists even younger than the French New Wave directors who had been inspired by the '68 uprisings. Also worth a read is a brief piece at Strictly Film School.

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