‘Jesus of Montreal’: A Provocative Passion

‘Jesus of Montreal’ is a film written and directed by Denys Arcand, one the most acclaimed Canadian filmmakers of all time, who wrote and directed other classics such as ‘The Decline of the American Empire’ (1986), ‘The Barbarian Invasions’ (2003) and notable pictures like ‘Stardom’ (2000) and ‘Days of Darkness’ (2007).

Jesus of Montreal (Jésus de Montréal) is a 1989 French Canadian comedy-drama film written and directed by Denys Arcand, and starring Lothaire Bluteau, Catherine Wilkening and Johanne-Marie Tremblay.

Jesus of Montreal was a huge critical success and it won multiple awards in prestigious festivals. In Cannes, it won 2 Jury Prizes and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars and at the Golden Globes.

The movie is about a biblical play. In Montreal, a priest named Leclerc hires Daniel, a modest theatre actor, to write, play and direct a new, more modern version of The Passion of the Christ. However, Daniel and his team (fellow playwrights and actors) create an analytical version, quoting and featuring scientific facts and recent historical discoveries surrounding the life of Jesus and the social context in which he lived. These facts contradict many of the “unquestionable truths” (based on blind faith) related to the son of God. The play becomes a hit and the church is scandalized by the treatment of the story. During a presentation, Leclerc demands Daniel to cancel the show immediately, which causes a tumult in the audience, a chaos that ends in a tragic accident.

Jesus of Montreal is a very smart film with a multilayered script. It is impressive how smooth its storytelling is. At some point during the picture, we find ourselves in a parallel story of Jesus set in Montreal in the late 1980’s. All the biblical characters and the events start falling in place like congruent pieces in the story. Writer-director Denys Arcand provides witty, ironic humor full of references, remarks, and social and historical commentaries. At the same time, the picture feels funny and entertaining. The ending is hilarious, wildly intelligent, subtle and ironic. It insinuates a lot, not only about Jesus and his “persecutors,” but also about Quebecers and some of their social confrontations in the recent past.

The naturalistic style suits very well Jesus of Montreal. During the play inside the movie, we feel we are seated in a theatre.  Outside, when the characters are not on “stage,” we get the vibe of 1980’s Montreal.

Decoding the life of Jesus may appear trivial today, but the way Jesus of Montreal treats the subject is unique. Irreverence is not the essence of this film, it is more about an interpretation of history (mythological figures and events) to create analogies and to understand contemporary societies. Friendship and comradeship are other values of this masterpiece.

Original title: Jesus of Montreal
Release date: 1989
Directed by: Denys Arcand
Written by: Denys Arcand
Starring: Lothaire Bluteau, Catherine Wilkening, Johanne-Marie Tremblay

Xphilo Liranzo
Journalist, freelance writer. Born in the Dominican Republic, lives in Toronto since 2016 and previously lived in Montréal for two years. Film analyst, novelist, author of two novels in process of editing. He writes reviews of movies, books, and music albums. He is also interested in psychology, sociology, neuroscience, history, sports, health, and well-being. He has some experience in filmmaking (directing and as a screenwriter). Passionate about languages, he is fluent in English, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. He is also able to read and speak German (intermediate level) and Mandarin (Basic level). You can find most of his articles and reviews on his website: