Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Nativity Story: A Review We've just come fresh from a private screening of the New Line Cinema movie "The Nativity Story." The film chronicles that year in the life of Mary and Joseph that forever altered the course of human history. It's the Christmas story, told beautifully in rich, earthen tones. The journey takes us from a windy garden annunciation of Gabriel to the Holy Birth soaked in starlight, ending with the flight of Mary and Joseph with the Child into Egypt. First Impressions: For me, the real treasures of this film lie in its attention to detail; the humble village of Nazareth is recreated with such evident devotion that this alone makes the film a joy to watch. We are invited to enter into the daily life of Mary, Joseph and their kin. We move with their schedules, we perform their everyday rituals, and it slows us down. These scenes are so rich with authenticity! Mary's coarse cloak, handwoven and weathered, brushing past the wheat; Joseph at his wood-working table, layered with sawdust... each speaks to us of the Divine descent into our time, our work, and our sweat; they pull back the glitter and the lights and show us again the gritty reality of the Incarnation, and the time and place in which God ordained that He would come. The olive press and the crushing of grapes for wine, so deeply foreboding of what lies ahead for Jesus; the gleaning of the grain in the fields hints at a "gift of finest wheat" that will soon come to fill us. The tanning of animal hides, the stirring of goat's milk, the planting of seeds and the tilling of soil. All seemed drenched with light and pregnant with meaning. Another charm of this film is in the intimate interactions of Mary and Joseph. A favorite scene for me was of Mary washing the travel-worn feet of a sleeping Joseph by a rocky stream. Again, a foreshadowing of what their Son will do for His Apostles. So we see in the parents what will come to be in the Child. Oscar Isaac was so refreshing in his portrayal of Joseph, the humble blue collar saint. He gave him a weight, a maturity, and a chivalry that is so desparately needed today. Well acted with convincing emotion, Joseph too makes the movie a must see. There are well placed pieces of humor, of the most innocent kind. The music is stirring, with subtle hints at the classic Christmas hymns and melodies we all know so well. They are woven almost seemlessly into the score and we smiled when we caught them. The cave that served as the birthplace of the God made Flesh was an open invitation to prayer, and that was almost tangible as we sat in the theater. The Nativity Story has its limitations, as all our works of art do. The opening scenes were a little too Peter Jackson-esque. Joachim and Ann seemed a little cranky most of the time. And Mary was overly distant, almost stoic at times. But who could ever come close to conveying the emotion and the love of the Immaculate Virgin anyway? Overall, I found myself thanking God for the gift of this movie. The timing is just right, in more ways than one.
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