Vie et Passion du Christ (1903) Review

Vie et Passion du Christ (1903) Director: Ferdinand Zecca

jesus pic

★★★★☆

“The Life and Passion of Christ” is a French silent film by Ferdinand Zecca. It succinctly tells the familiar Biblical story of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It lasts slightly longer than 40 minutes. It has been called one of the first feature-length films ever made. The aesthetic for the film was inspired by Gustave Doré’s drawings. Vie et Passion du Christ is a truly impressive film on many accounts, I was perhaps most struck by the extraordinary set designs. The film is powerful and visually striking considering it is one of the earliest pioneering silent films.

The set designs in the film are truly incredible, many scenes feature a well-orchestrated tableaux vivant akin to a Renaissance painting. Additionally, I took note of several scenes in which the camera moves from left to right, which was still a novelty technique in the early development of cinematography. Each scene is divided by an inter-title briefly explaining the action of the scene. The surviving footage contains scenes which are stenciled over to appear in color. The story of Jesus will later become the subject matter of many great films, notably in Cecil B, DeMille’s epics.

Who is the director? Ferdinand Zecca (1864-1947) was a noted early French film pioneer. He employed nascent cinematic tricks, particularly with regard to short films showcasing fictionalized versions of the Wright Brothers. He worked for Pathé, the celebrated French film company. Zecca had previously worked as an editor for many of George Melies’s films, but Vie et Passion du Christ is his most notable work.

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