Dec 5, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Mary of Nazareth’ depicts familiar story with tenderness and humanity



(CNS photo/courtesy of Ignatius Press)

Reviewed by Karen Lynn Ford

SPRINGFIELD – Catholics encounter the Virgin Mary through her brief appearances in the Scriptures, through the stories of saints who experienced visions of her, and especially through recitation of the rosary. But “Mary is a mystery,” her father Joachim says in the new Ignatius Press release of the motion picture, “Mary of Nazareth.” 

This full-length feature film about the life of Mary, shot in English in high definition, was filmed in Tunisia. Actress Alissa Jung gives a beautiful, compelling and inspired portrayal of Mary. The film was directed by acclaimed European film director Giacomo Campiotti (“Bakhita”; “Doctor Zhivago”; “St. Giuseppe Moscati”) and written by Francesco Arlanch (“Restless Heart”; “Pius XII”; “Pope John Paul II”).

In addition to the luminous performance by Jung, “Mary of Nazareth” (Carmel Communications for Ignatius Press) provides inspiring portrayals of all the main roles, including Andreas Pietschmann as Jesus, Luca Marinelli as Joseph, Paz Vega as Mary Magdalene and Antonia Liskova as Herodias. The original music score was written by Guy Farley.

Just as the prayer of the rosary reflects on the mysteries of the life of Jesus and his mother, “Mary of Nazareth” illuminates those mysteries in the medium of film. This artistic representation of Mary has been hailed by movie critics and Marian experts alike. 

In the film, Mary’s mystery is depicted in the ordinary moments of daily life. Just before Joseph’s marriage proposal, she sits on a rock in a garden with the sheep. The Angel Gabriel arrives while Mary is making bread. Jesus and the 12 disciples arrive while Mary picks carrots.  Again, Mary is making bread as Jesus instructs his apostles to be “salt and light.” 

As Mary does these ordinary things throughout the film, the viewer is captivated by her joy and serenity. After she returns from assisting Elizabeth with the birth of John the Baptist, the villagers treat her with disdain for her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. When Mary and her mother, Ann (Antonella Attili), go to pick olives, the other women leave, harrumphing and looking at her with contempt. 

Another young woman in a similar situation may have gotten angry, insulted or depressed by their harsh treatment. Mary clearly recognizes their disgust, but she remains serene, gathering the fruit. In fact, she rarely stops smiling throughout the film.

The original film was 200 minutes, while the Ignatius Press version is edited to 153 minutes. As a result of the editing, some viewers may miss the connection between Mary (Jung) and Mary Magdalene (Paz Vega). A reviewer of the original-length film notes that the two women were close friends as girls. Mary’s path in life begins with a childhood spent in the temple, learning about the Lord. Magdalene’s path leads her to Herod’s court and a pursuit of worldly desires which nearly ends in her stoning. 

Of course, many reviewers have discussed the relationship between Mary and Jesus. Their interaction reveals a closeness, particularly before the Last Supper. These talented actors capture the emotion and tenderness between mother and son in each scene they share.

The relationship between Mary and Joseph is also noteworthy in “Mary of Nazareth.” Joseph loves Mary. Rather than focus on his righteousness, he tells her the information about her pregnancy is too much. He says, “I’m just a man.” The turn of phrase here, the double meaning of “just” emphasizes his humanity. This man chosen by God to raise his son and protect his mother cannot believe the news, but he refuses to bring harm, shame, and death to his beloved.  At the moment of his deepest grief, the angel appears in his dream, and, through the gift of God’s grace, Joseph begins to live a similar joy to that of Mary.

In “Mary of Nazareth,” the story Christians know so well comes to life, in all of its tender humanity.

(Editor’s note: The San Damiano Youth Group of St. Stanislaus Basilica and Martyr Parish in Chicopee will host a screening of “Mary of Nazareth” at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 18, 2014. Tickets are $10 and the fundraiser will help defray the costs of the group’s annual summer camp and retreat. Tickets will be available in the St. Stanislaus Basilica parish office beginning on Friday, Dec. 6, and will be on sale after all Masses at the basilica on the weekends of Dec. 14-15 and 21-22.) 

  • Ford is an adjunct professor of English at Springfield Technical Community College, Springfield, Mass.