This review of “Mary of Nazareth” contributed by Kathy Schiffer
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“For me as an actress, it was more about Mary in her humanity, her inner conflict,” said Alissa Jung in speaking about her leading role in Ignatius Press’ film “Mary of Nazareth,” which has been released on DVD in time for Christmas.
The German-born actress spoke with me on a recent visit to Detroit, the second stop on a three-city lightning tour in North America to promote the film. She admitted to feeling a little anxious about her children, waiting for her in Berlin; but she took time to answer questions and to share her personal insights regarding the film.
This full-length feature film about the life of Mary, the Mother of God, was filmed in Tunisia and shot in English in high definition. It begins with Mary’s childhood, as marauders attempt to take her into slavery and as, with a hug for her loving parents, she skips happily into the Temple to begin a new life in the care of the rabbi. The film ends only after the Resurrection, when Mary’s quiet faith in her Son is shown to be warranted. It vividly captures the essence of Our Lady’s profound faith and trust in God, and makes real the deep love between Mary and her Son. Mary held a great mystery in her heart; but what struck me, watching the story on the big screen, was not the immensity of her role as the mother of God, but rather, her infectious joy.
The film is long (two hours and 33 minutes), but my attention never wavered. The story, of course, was completely familiar—since it was based on Scripture—yet I was not bored. In fact, Jung delivered her lines in the Magnificat with such fresh honesty that I had a new appreciation for that beautiful prayer.
The movie seems a living, moving Carravaggio painting—with its rich color palette and the subtle interplay of light and shadows. There were what seemed to me anachronisms: Mary, Joseph and Jesus were fair-skinned, blue- or hazel-eyed, with light hair that seemed more European than Mid-Eastern. The clothing was lovely but perhaps more finely crafted than one would expect in a period movie from the first century. For example, Mary wore a lot of pink, especially in her youth—something I’ve never seen in Bible stories. Toward the end of the movie, Mary wore a deep blue veil of a delicate, almost sheer fabric edged in a richly embroidered gold band. She seemed appropriately dressed for a holy card, but oddly out of place on a dusty Nazareth hillside.
Jung had an explanation for that, too. She explained that there is, indeed, an intended link back to Caravaggio. Italian director Giacomo Campiotti had viewed the production as a film, yes—but also as an art form; and for inspiration he had turned to the fine art of the Renaissance period.
There are other films about the life of Christ which serve as big-screen Bible studies. “Mary of Nazareth” is that, too; but more, it is a film about love: about the love that Jesus and Mary shared, and about the love that each of them has for us. Mary’s response to Christ—the happy child swimming in the Lake of Galilee, and the suffering Redeemer on the Cross—is “Here I am.” Even when the pain of the Crucifixion seems too much to bear, Mary’s calm love and trust in God is an inspiration and an encouragement.
Ignatius Press has just released “Mary of Nazareth” on DVD, and has told the story in a full-color coffee table book. Both are available from the publisher or in Catholic book stores: