118 minutes – Drama
Festival release date: May 17, 1989 (Cannes)
Canadian Distributor: Cineplex Odeon Films
When Jesus of Montreal opens it has been some 40 years since the annual Easter Passion Play has been held at the famous St Joseph’s Oratory on the north side of the mountain in the centre of Montréal. Some within the church believe after all this time the message has become tired, and needs a new appraoch. Father Leclerc (Gilles Pelletier) is a priest with an interest in theatre who hires Daniel (Lothaire Bluteau), a local out of work but talented and intelligent actor, to direct an updated version of the play that is staged on the grounds of a hillside shrine overlooking the city. Using new information from the latest archaeological finds and new translations of the Talmud, Daniel begins to rework the story and the traditional Stations of the Cross. He also casts himself as Jesus and finds four other actors to join him: Constance (Johanne-Marie Tremblay), a single mother who was in the previous production and is Father Leclerc’s secret mistress, Mireille (Catherine Wilkening), a model who has never done any serious acting, Martin (Rémy Girard), a witty fellow who has a job dubbing voices for porno films, and René (Robert Lepage), an idiosyncratic actor who yearns to perform Hamlet’s soliloquy. Although their performance of Daniel’s revised Passion Play is a hit with the critics and the public, Father Leclerc is upset by what he regards as its wild speculations and radical portrait of Jesus. He announces that he will have to consult his superiors and later orders the cast to revive the original and traditional Passion Play. Instead, the cast decide they will do it their way for one last performance. The police are called in and shut down the drama, despite protests from the audience. A security guard says, “Look, he dies on the cross and is resurrected. No big deal!”
Jésus de Montréal, or Jesus of Montreal, won 12 Genie Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Bluteau) and Supporting Actor (Girard). It also won the Jury Prize at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film at the 1990 Oscars®. A restored print of the film had a special 25th anniversary screening in Paris in 2014.