This year, among the many inspirational films that were screened at the John Paul II International Film Festival in Miami, Florida, there was one that captured my attention. I am referring to the thought-provoking movie The Savior (Grace Productions, 2013), directed by Robert Savo and written by Philip Dorr.
I must admit that while watching the film, I questioned the need for another movie about the life of Jesus. After all, currently, there is another feature playing in theaters that deals with the same subject. Yet, I found The Savior’s promotional material intriguing. The movie poster contained the following phrase: “For the very first time in cinematic history Jesus comes home.” Once it begins, the viewer realizes that the movie is narrated and spoken completely in Arabic. The actors are from the Middle East and the film itself is produced in Palestine. despite the fact that the picture is a bit long for American audiences (it has a running time of 136 minutes) and that a few of special effects were questionable, the film felt quite familiar. Its narrative, in my estimation, resonated well with the viewers’ experience. On the most part, the film presented quite well the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The screenwriter takes the Gospel of Luke as a point of departure. Luke’s perspective allows the Palestinian and Israeli cast to feel right at home with Luke’s storyline of the universality of the message of Jesus. Luke presents Salvation as a gift to all humankind, with a preferential option for those who suffer, the poor and outcasts. The thrust of this message was not lost to the American audience since the plight of the followers of Jesus in this part of the world in modern times has been well documented in our nightly news and social media feed. The largely Palestinian actors convincingly portray the story of the Son of God bringing peace and Salvation to a fragmented and hostile world, and this makes this feature relevant and transcendent both historically and theologically.
The Arabic language is quite melodious and it gave the words of Jesus a certain mystical tone. More than that, in my opinion, the spoken language serves as the soul and spirit of culture. Jesus was indeed at home in a Semitic context. The gestures, body language and facial expressions of the actors must have been closer to what Jesus and his companions portrayed by European or American actors would have been able to render on screen. There were times during the film that I felt tempted to just listen to the dialogue and not read the subtitles since for me, the events of the screen had a profound aura of authenticity. This Arabic-speaking Jesus was accessible and vulnerable, mystical and mysterious, yet his deportment and demeanor was similar to how people of the Middle East, on the most part, conduct themselves. His healing touch, his promptness to embrace others, and his desire to build comradery and community were naturally displayed with eloquence by the actor portraying him.
I hope this film is well received by the general audience in the United States and internationally. The language that Jesus speaks should not be an issue or a barrier to grasp, accept and propagate the message of peace and universal salvation that he offers to all humanity. On the contrary, it should make his message and actions easier to transmit and understand for all audiences.
2014 © Francisco Castillo, DMin. All Rights Reserved.
Film Stills from The Savior Facebook Page.