Vie et Passion du Christ (1903) Director: Ferdinand Zecca
“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 and has been called one of the first feature-length films ever made. The aesthetic for the film was clearly 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 which are powerful and visually striking for an early pioneering silent film –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 at the time was still a novelty technique. 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 developed new ways of capturing 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 remains his most notable work.