"Mary of Nazareth” is a touching re-creation of Mary’s life told from early childhood until Christ’s resurrection.
Like any artist’s creation, the film is one perspective, and could never be taken as the absolute word on Mary and her life. What the movie, shot on European locations and filmed in English, does best is present Mary as a child, young woman and into middle age — in relationship with God, yes, but particularly in relationship with her human family, including Jesus as God and man.
However, the relationship that comes across with the most strength and insight is that of Mary and Joseph. German actor Alissa Jung and Italian actor Luca Marinelli both turn in vital performances — we really feel Joseph’s agony, his faith-filled protective love as a husband and a father.
The film shows Jung as Mary mystically united with Christ’s suffering, but also as a happy mother. We see her parents, Joachim and Anne, who are portrayed with an uncanny sense and a sense of humor. That is something that “Mary of Nazareth” has that most religious movies don’t — a feel for the funny side, but not inappropriately.
The film was directed by Italian Giacomo Campiotti, whose credits include “Bakhita,” “St. Giuseppe Moscati,” as well as a version of “Doctor Zhivago.” Francesco Arlanch wrote the screenplay. His credits include “Restless Heart,” a film about St. Augustine recently released by Ignatius Press.
We know very little of Mary’s daily life from Scripture, but we know even less about her parents, whose names are drawn from Tradition. What we know of Joseph in Scripture comes from his appearance in the Annunciation and Nativity stories. The film also found inspiration in the mystical visions of a 19th-century German woman, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, said Father Donald Calloway, who is helping Ignatius Press promote the film and is a member of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.
Jung portrays Mary as holy and as a wife and mother and daughter, as well as her own person. There are moments when the film struggles, including a scene with the apostles in Mary’s home, and earlier when she is alone in a field after the Annunciation.
Andreas Pietschmann (Jesus) does a workmanlike job, but because the relationship between Mary and Joseph is so enchanting in its humanity and holiness, the film’s portrayal of Mary and Jesus’ relationship dims somewhat in comparison.
The film takes a little artistic license in a couple of Gospel stories. The wedding at Cana and Mary’s involvement did not match my perception of how Mary would act or feel, and for some reason the filmmakers placed Herodias both at King Herod the Great’s court for the slaughter of the innocents and then 30 years later, unaged in her Gospel role as wife to King Herod of Galilee, for the beheading of John the Baptist.
Because of a couple frightening scenes, the film is not appropriate for young children and perhaps even young teens.
As we travel this life, trying to be saints, we are asked to model ourselves on Mary, Joseph and, of course, Jesus. This film gives families, particularly parents, a bit of spiritual insight into what life in the Holy Family might have been like, and it is a life the film paints as appealing and imitable.
I came away with a perspective on Joseph, Mary and the Holy Family that enriched my view of the Holy Family within the context of Scripture and Catholic teaching. I laughed, I shed a tear or two, I smiled and I felt a sense of God. Pretty good takeway from a night at the movies.
Valerie Schmalz writes from California.