from the imdb comments:
The second in a series of historical films begun by Roberto Rossellini in the late 1960’s was this sublime movie for Italian television which traces the spread of Christianity in the thirty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, according to the accounts of Luke. Most of the first part deals with the successes and failures of Peter in spreading the good news of Jesus and presents an almost documentary view of the first Christian community, the trials before the Sanhedrin, the martyrdom of Philip and Stephen. Most of the second half of this five-hour+ film follows Paul from his conversion en route to Damascus, his work with Barnabas in Antioch of Syria, his debates on the old law versus the new, his arrest. The film ends with his imprisonment in Rome. ACTS OF THE APOSTLES is both a monumental cinematic achievement and a profound inquiry into the foundations of Christian faith. Rossellini’s sharp eye for historical context made him the ideal director of this rich material. More importantly, his patient delving into the mystery of faith is never superficial but always suffused with search and wonder, as it had been in FRANCIS, GOD’S JESTER and would be in THE MESSIAH. Those unfamiliar with Rossellini’s deliberate and unsensational style may take a while to get accustomed to it, but viewer patience and attention are always rewarded in the Rossellini historical films. Remarkably, one comes away from the film with a powerful sense of who Christ was. His presence fills the movie without his once being seen in it…as though he were just beyond the edges of the frame.
This is a great use of anyone’s five hours. Sure, the desert setting and faded print can leave it a touch monochromatic (beige), and the pace can be sedate, but how many films cover the period of what happened in the months and years after the Resurrection? Rossellini masterfully conveys the faith that allowed the early Christians to persist against persecution and, when their teachings fell on stony ground amongst the Jews, to overcome the constraints of tradition and go out to preach amongst the Gentiles. One hears the passionate debates of the very early Church and understands the inner strength of believers that drove every decision to travel from one’s home, every willingness to suffer for a greater cause. With largely credible sets and actors and dramatic scenes, one follows every twist and turn with real empathy.
I had always wanted to check out Rossellini’s TV work (which took up most of his later career), if only to make a personal opinion of it – given that it’s not a very well regarded period – apart from THE RISE OF LOUIS XIV (1966) – for a film-maker often considered among cinema’s greatest.
Unsurprisingly, the ultra low-key approach and use of mostly non-professional actors (the one recognizable face here being “Euro-Cult” favorite Paul Muller) resembles most of all Rossellini’s earlier religious film THE FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS (1950). From the title itself, one realizes that this ‘epic’ production tackles events from the Bible that are often overlooked; while the character of St. Peter – a prominent figure here – does feature in the likes of QUO VADIS (1951) and THE ROBE (1953), relatively little has been done with the life of St. Paul: he first appears in the second episode, but gradually assumes the central role throughout. Considering that he was the one to convert my native island of Malta to Christianity, it was nice to be able to get a close look at the man – as imagined by a master film-maker, no less – even if the famous shipwreck itself, which landed him over here (allegedly right into the village I hail from), is only alluded to in the film!
Though the talky and uneventful nature of the nearly six-hour long ACTS OF THE APOSTLES hardly lends itself to excitement and spectacle, Rossellini’s eye for naturalistic detail – aided by a wistful ethnic score by Mario Nascimbene, light years removed from his rousing signature theme for THE VIKINGS (1958) – gives one a real sense of the time and the place (the film was actually shot in Tunisia). Besides, it does quite well in delineating the way Christianity was misunderstood first of all by the Jews themselves because it went against their assumption of being God’s chosen people (and which led to the adoption of circumcision as a sign of identification) – in that this nascent religion decreed that Jesus had died for the absolution of all sins and not for the benefit of just one nation!
Needless to say, I find myself more responsive as a film buff to Rossellini’s innovative early “Neo-Realist” work and the thought-provoking series of films with Ingrid Bergman; that said, I’ll be following ACTS OF THE APOSTLES with THE MESSIAH (1975) – the director’s last work for the cinema which, in narrative terms, obviously precedes this and is, by all accounts, handled in similarly minimalist fashion…
3.14GB | 5 h 40 min | 704×528 | avi