The Face [Jesus in Art] (2001)

The Church's sacred art is part of her repository of sacred Tradition, preserving and expressing the deposit of faith in a unique and indispensable way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reflects the importance of the Church's art in her faith and teaching by including four-color prints of important works of religious art.

The Face, a remarkable two-hour documentary produced in conjunction with the Catholic Communication Campaign, is a visually sumptuous and spiritually rewarding exploration of Christian art that surveys the history of how Jesus Christ has been portrayed and how Christian teaching has been understood, interpreted and given different emphases by the art of different times and places.

The Face traces the figure of Jesus from the earliest third-century images in the catacombs to the lavish art of the Renaissance and into the modern era. The development of specifically Christian art forms such as the stunning wall mosaics of the patristic era and the iconography of the Christian East is explored, and an eye-opening discussion of the increasing emphasis on Jesus’ humanity in sometimes blood-drenched medieval depictions of Jesus' passion offer welcome perspective on recent historically uninformed critiques of the violence of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. (Gibson himself, coincidentally, is one of the narrators, along with Bill Moyers, Ricardo Montalban and others.)

Content advisory: A few graphic painted depictions of the Passion.

Jesus of Nazareth (1977)

Like the Bible itself, Franco Zefferelli — s epic, ambitious, made-for-television Jesus of Nazareth is often experienced in bits and pieces over the years and is commonly better known in isolated parts than in its lengthy whole. Viewed as a whole, it might or might not be the greatest Jesus film ever made; in any case it remains in some ways the standard by which other Jesus films are judged. No other Jesus film, not even Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew or Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, offers an interpretation of the Gospel story so comprehensive and definitive.

Its key assets, beyond its ample running time, are a scripturally and historically literate script, a reverently non-revisionist distillation of key Gospel stories, a distinguished and generally apt ensemble cast, and matter-of-fact realism in its approach to the miraculous.

Robert Powell's portrayal of Jesus is reverent and authoritative, though too ethereal, more successfully evoking Christ's transcendence than his humanity. The film's most glaring weakness, though, is its Resurrection episode, which feels rushed and anticlimactic. But Jesus of Nazareth's strengths more than outweigh its weaknesses. Its achievement is unique. Nothing else like it has ever been made and might never be.

Content advisory: Somewhat graphic Passion narrative violence; a few scary scenes (e.g., the slaughter of the innocents, an exorcism, etc.); a bit of discreet sexual content. Reasonable family viewing.