Nominated for an Oscar this year as Best Foreign Film, this Canadian gem, from writer-director Denys Arcand (The Decline of the American Empire), is a sharply perceptive satire of modern Christianity. Father Leclerc (Gilles Pelletier), a Catholic priest in Montreal, hires an itinerant actor named Daniel (Lothaire Bluteau) to put on his church’s annual Passion play. Leclerc, a theater buff, is looking for something less traditional this year, and he gets it.
To play Mary, Daniel chooses Constance (Johanne-Marie Tremblay), a single mother who has been sleeping with Father Leclerc. For Mary Magdalene, he goes to Mireille (Catherine Wilkening), a beauty whose acting has been limited to sexy TV ads. To portray various followers, Daniel employs René (Robert Lepage), a Thespian who wants to incorporate Hamlet’s soliloquy into the Jesus story, and Martin (a superb comic turn by Rémy Girard), who dubs porn films.
Adding their own interpretations to the text, the troupe scores a huge success with the public but scandalizes the church, which moves to stop it. The five players have now formed a close bond. The incorruptible Daniel – he spurns offers to endorse products and smashes the cameras at a commercial audition when the sponsors force Mireille to strip – has changed their lives. Before this ardent, richly comic film reaches its surprisingly moving conclusion, Arcand has exposed a world that can’t recognize its own hypocrisy or hear a voice in the wilderness.