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JESUS OF MONTREAL is the eagerly anticipated new film by Denys Arcand, the gifted director of the hugely successful The Decline Of The American Empire. At last year's Cannes Film Festival, Jesus of Montreal won the Special Jury Prize and provoked the kind of passionate response that is typical of Arcand's work.

Dealing with the way in which Christ's message has been distorted through history, the film focuses on Daniel, a young actor hired by a Montreal church to direct a more contemporary and relevant version of the annual Passion Play. Daniel, who will play Jesus himself, sets off to find four actors to play roles in his re-vamped version of the play, gathering his own band of disciples around him in the process. Slowly, events start to echo parts of the biblical story itself. While the play turns out to be a success, the church finds the play too controversial.

Wicked fun ensues as Arcand skewers various aspects of contemporary life: gushy critics, TV commercials, church attitudes, overcrowded hospitals, the police, and much more. "I wanted to make a movie of ripping contrasts, from madcap comedy to absurd drama," claims Areand. It is precisely the juxtaposition of these contradictory moods that gives the film its strength. Boldly conceived and superbly executed, Jesus Of Montreal is moving and provocative, lacerating in its insights, tender in its compassion.

”Three or four back I was auditioning a young bearded actor who'd been clean shaven when I first met him a few months earlier. “Sorry about the beard” he said “but these days I'm Jesus”. Every evening throughout the summer, he would perform for tourists in “The Way of the Cross” on Mount-Royal, the mountain that dominates the Montreal landscape.

”It's always hard to tell where the idea for a movie comes from, but this strange situation began to haunt me. How could this young actor say: “Whoever would save his life would lose it”, one evening and the very next morning, show up at an audition for an erotic film or a beer commercial.- Denys Arcand