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'The Nativity Story'

By Mark Moorehead

Dec. 2, 2006

If Biblical realism were a genre of film, The Nativity Story would be the prequel to The Passion. Although the two films were produced by different studios and directors they share many of the same traits.

Both films present a more accurate portrait of those events than the previously sanitized versions from Hollywood. Gone are the Anglo white faces and non-stop singing of high notes from an unseen choir. Newly arrived are darker faces you’d expect to see in the Middle East and scenes previously considered ill suited for family audiences, such as the depiction of King Herod’s shock troops in full armor dragging children from their homes for summary execution.

The shear terror exhibited by the children in these scenes is palpable and for some surely disturbing. Yet I did not find this depiction as disturbing as the lengthy scene of Jesus being tortured in the The Passion.

Mel Gibson proved in The Passion that, by selecting the right actors and projecting the look and feel of the period, one can take familiar words in the Bible and translate them into a powerful visual format that suddenly transports the viewer back in time.

You’re not watching actors reading lines on a stage in a mock drama that you’ve seen countless times before. Rather, you’re lost in the present, convinced that what you’re seeing is exactly how it must have been in that moment in time.

Director Catherine Hardwicke succeeds in creating the same sense of time travel for the movie-goer with her film The Nativity Story.

Hardwicke’s international casting provides a solid foundation for the movie. Krisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) plays Mary, and Oscar Isaac is Joseph. Academy Award nominee Shohrch Aghdashloo (an Iranian Actress) plays Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin and the mother of John the Baptist.

And, adding some authenticity to the film, is Mary’s mother, played by Hiam Abbass. Abbass was

born in Nazareth.

Much like a cast in a Robert Altman film there are no particular stand-outs or disappointments in the acting department. All pull their own weight delivering the story faithfully. Well, I take that back. What you see prior to the birth of Christ in The Nativity Story may not be entirely accurate but it is the most tantalizing part of the film because we never hear about this part of the untold story.

Out of economic necessity, Mary’s poor Jewish parents inform Mary they have arranged her to marry “a good man” named Joseph. At first Mary does not embrace the prospect of marrying this older man and seeks refuge in an olive grove where she is visited by Gabriel (Alexander Siddig) who tells her the Holy Spirit will cause her to bear a son. Mary soon becomes pregnant.

When Mary’s parents get the news they are not happy, refusing to accept Mary’s explanation of Immaculate Conception. Neither does anyone else in Nazareth believe in Mary’s story except for Joseph, proving he is indeed “a good man.”

Instead of being overjoyed with the prospect of being the parents of the Messiah, newly wedded Mary and Joseph are fearful, defensive and confused. In short, they react the way one would expect normal human beings to react.

In the final stage of Mary’s pregnancy, she and Joseph leave Nazareth bound for Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem and—no surprise—find no room at the inn.

If you didn’t read the book and were waiting for it to be made into a movie, now’s your chance.

The Nativity Story

General Audiences: B

A timely film for the holidays and a more realistic rendition of the days before the Immaculate Conception. Nothing objectionable

Family Audiences: B

Good Sunday school lesson for children. King Herod’s dragnet scene probably inappropriate for impressionable children six and under. Rated G for some violent content.


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