31 March 2013


Happy Easter! Today, a post on the Italian silent film Christus/Christ (1916). This Cines production directed by count Giulio Antamoro and filmed in Palestine and Egypt was a worldwide success.

Christus (1916)  Flight to Egypt
French postcard by Les Films Primior, Paris. Photo: Cines. Publicity still for Christus (1916, Giulio Antamoro). Translation of the caption: 'The Flight to Egypt: Get up, take your child and his mother, fly to Egypt and stay there until I warn you.'

Christus (1916) Holy Family in Egypt
French postcard by Les Films Primior, Paris. Photo: Cines. Publicity still for Christus (1916, Giulio Antamoro). Translation of the caption: 'The Sky over Egypt. At the entrance of Memphis, in Old Cairo, the Well of Matarea saves the menaced life of Jesus.'

Shot in Location
In 1915-1916, so right in the middle of the First World War, Italian director count Giulio Cesare Antamoro went to Palestine and Egypt, on behalf of the film company Cines. Earlier, the Kalem production From the Manger to the Cross (1912, Sidney Olcott) had faithfully reproduced the sketches by James Tissot, drawn on location in Egypt and Palestine. Antamoro wanted to film the life of Christ on location. Christus (1916) was a worldwide success, because of the quotations of famous art works such as Fra Angelico's Annunciation, Leonardo's Last Supper and Michelangelo's Pietà, but also because of the location shots. The press drew a direct relationship between the authenticity of the film and that of the the earlier sketches by Tissot. Even more than in the Kalem production, the Cines crew exploited the monuments and scenery in Egypt for the film, bending the Biblical tales to make it more spectacular.

Christus (1916) Youth in Nazareth
French postcard by Les Films Primior, Paris. Translation of the caption: 'In Nazareth, surrounded by the Holy Virgin and Joseph, Jesus grows up in wisdom, in grace and in age, before God and before mankind.' On the right, Leda Gys plays the Holy Virgin.

Christus (1916) Jesus among the ruins of the world (Luxor, Egypt)
French postcard by Les Films Primior, Paris. Translation of the caption: 'The world is dying, oppressed, degraded and in despair, Jesus, says, but God is there who guards.' Alberto Pasquali plays Jesus.

The Holy Family
Arriving in Egypt afer their Flight from Jerusalem, the Holy Family passes the pyramids of Gizeh and the famous Sphinx. We notice Mary in Memphis under Cairo, where she receives food and drinks after the Flight to Egypt. Afterwards we see the Holy Family near a row of sphinxes at Karnak. Later in the film, when Jesus has grown up in de film, he reflects on the decay of the world. Antamoro then shows Jesus walking through the majestic ruins of Luxor. No Biblical reason for this, but Antamoro thus combines literal decay with spiritual decay. Besides, anno 1915-1916 there were more ancient buildings in Egypt than in Paestine to exploit, and thus Egypt's monumentality was used. For the average cinema visitor in Europe during the First World War the vision of ancient ruins must have created associations with the modern ruins in Northern France and Belgium, daily visible in cinema newsreels.

Christus (1916) Entry of Christ into Jerusalem
French postcard by Films Primior, Paris. Entry of Christ into Jerusalem. On Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, Christians celebrate Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

Christus (1916) Getsemane
French postcard by Films Primior, Paris. Christ (Alberto Pasquali) agonizing in the gardens of Getsemane.

Additional Shooting
The leading roles in Christus were acted by Alberto Pasquali (Christ), Leda Gys (Mary), Amleto Novelli (Pilate), and Augusto Mastripietri (Judas), while Renato Visca played the young Jesus. When additional shooting was necessary in 1916, Enrico Guazzoni director of Quo vadis? (1912), Marcantonio e Cleopatra (1913) and Cajus Julius Caesar (1914) was now in charge, while Antamoro wasn't available anymore. Janiss Garza at AllMovie reviews the result as: "static, pretentious and dated (yes, even for 1917). In addition, the titles - at least in the English version - were long and wordy, which was anathema to moviegoers of the 'teens." However, Christus was an international success. Two other films with the same title were released in 1914 and 1919 but both are missing now. Cines' Christus was eventually restored by producer Goffredo Lombardo, the founder of Titanus and the son of Leda Gys, and was shown at the 2000 Venice Film Festival.

Christus (1916) towards Mount Calvary and the Crucifixion
French postcard by Les Films Primior, Paris. Christ towards Mount Calvary and the Crucifixion. While Simon of Cyrene is carrying the cross, Jesus (Alberto Pasquali) meets his mother Mary (Leda Gys) and Mary Magdalene (Aurelia Cattaneo), on the way to Mount Calvary. Translation of the caption: 'The Calvary: Jesus meets his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene. Turning towards the other women, he speaks: Don't weep for me, daughters of Jerusalem, but for you and your children.'

Christus (1916) Calvary
French postcard by Films Primior, Paris. Christ's Crucifixion on Mount Calvary. Translation of the caption: 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'

Christus (1916) Pietà
French postcard by Films Primior, Paris. The Pietà with Jesus (Alberto Pasquali) and Mary (Leda Gys). Translation of the caption: 'The descent of the cross. See if there is any sorrow like mine.'

Sources: Janiss Garza (AllMovie), Mario Gauci (IMDb) and IMDb.


Bunched Undies said...

Happy Easter to you Bob. Very interesting post with some wonderful images. I'd love to see this film sometime.

Peter Alex Vaudelaire said...

Hi there My Comment is about this Precious movie and to me is a Faithful Masterpiece and is the Best Film ever made and needs a Possible Reboot in this Years for Future Generations is My Dream to watch this precious film Reboot because i love it so much i am Christian believer and i request this film be remade yeah is true filmakers can do this possible lets spread The Word guys God does things Possible if we Believe :)