[Please note: This review includes “spoilers,” which has never seemed more appropriate. You’re welcome.]
The Wise Men, if we should call them so, are confused. Is that a star or a comet?
“Last time we chased a comet. . .we ended up in Greece.”
“Are you complaining?”
Well, Greece is beautiful this time of year, and pace Mr. Eliot, it can be a pretty cold coming elsewhere in December, “Just the worst time of the year,” in fact.
I’m reflecting here on the opening of The First Temptation of Christ, a sticky Brazilian confection on Netflix, a comedy (if you’re, say, 13-years-old) about Jesus bringing home his homosexual “friend” to meet the family.
Worldwide protests are mounting. But I hate to condemn anything out of hand, so let me do so in hand.
These ill-costumed magi (imagine the Three Stooges in bathrobes) are heading to the house of Joseph and Mary. Melchior sees a woman he thinks he recognizes: Thelma. Gaspar and Balthasar want to know who she is. “A Roman girl I met at the crucifixion.”
Not to worry; it’s not that Crucifixion.
The wise guys have come for a surprise birthday party for Mary’s son on his return from the desert after forty days. And they really want Jesus to appear soon because they’re in need of a miracle: Joseph is serving only water. So. . .we await the coming of Jesus and, voila!, wine.
God comes too. There’s some tension between him and Joseph, since, apparently, Mary has been seeing this god person behind her hubby’s back. God, who looks like a Viking, has brought an angel food cake to the party. “But don’t worry,” he jokes, “no angels were harmed in the making of it!” Joseph is not amused, and Mary wonders if he’s lost his sense of humor. He hasn’t.
The guest of honor arrives. With him is his friend, Orlando. Joseph wants to know where Orlando, who calls Jesus “Jay,” is from. “From the desert, Dad. You don’t know him.”
God is also known as, ahem, Uncle Vittorio. More tension arises when the carpenter stepfather gives Jesus a pan flute and, ahem, Uncle Vittorio gives him an electronic keyboard. . .and promises to teach him some Beatles songs.
But Vittorio, Mary, and Joseph take Jesus aside privately, to his bedroom (with posters on the wall), because they’ve finally decided to tell him that Vittorio isn’t really his uncle. Joseph wanted to be the one to break it to him, but Vittorio blurts it out. It gets tense, with Vittorio insisting that, after all, he knows the young man better than “Joey” does – he even knows when Jesus masturbates!
Jesus wants to know, then, how Joseph fits into the picture. Vittorio, who now insists on being called “God,” explains that Joey is really just a surrogate father, a babysitter.
Look, it just gets worse. It gets as bad as you can imagine: coarse, vulgar, blasphemous. “Jesus” is stunned to learn that he is the son of “God,” when all he wants – as Orlando helped him to understand in the desert – is to be a juggler.
“God” gives “Jesus” superpowers, explaining that now “Jesus” can do anything he wants.
“Can I go backpacking in the desert with Orlando?”
“Almost anything,” “God” says.
Orlando sings a song – to the tune of “Jingle Bells” – relating the story of Creation, which is mostly about sex (including incest – Adam and Eve, you know), with several double entendres.
Thelma arrives! Buxom Thelma. Mary is scandalized and flees the party. “God” finds her outside smoking a joint. “It’s just incense,” she tells him. “God” still carries a flame for her – wants to take her away to someplace where they can open a beachfront hotel together.
Later, Orlando makes “Jesus” tea from Joseph’s stash that he uses for his glaucoma. Jesus hallucinates a meeting with other gods: Buddha, Shiva, Jah (the Rastafarian Yahweh), an alien, and Allah, although he’s not seen, I assume because the filmmakers feared that particular sacrilege might be met with violent consequences.
Back to Orlando: turns out he’s actually the devil. Perhaps it will upset homosexuals that Lucifer is presented as “queer.” Anyhow, a battle royal (well, more like battle lowborn) ensues between “Jesus” and the powerful Orlando, who forces the son of “God” to dance the macarena, until Jesus, demon-like, possesses him, causing the devil to explode.
The title of this nasty, sophomoric impiety is a parody of The Last Temptation of Christ, although inspired, I suspect, by the Scorsese movie and not the Kazantzakis book. This I deduce from the fact that a book requires reading, a skill I’m skeptical the filmmakers possess to any significant extent.
That said, The First Temptation of Christ is actually a prequel to another, similar film, The Last Hangover, which is about how “Jesus” and his “Apostles” overdid it at that most-famous Passover Seder. (“Jesus” comes down from the cross, in that one, hungover but otherwise no worse for the wear.)
This more recent waste of time has but one virtue: it is only forty-three minutes long. It was directed by one Rodrigo van der Put, aided and abetted by a morally criminal conspiracy called Porta dos Fundos, which I guess would be “Back Door” em inglês. Show them the way out.
Netflix is a profit-oriented operation and, to borrow a good Galilean analogy, they cast a wide net. There are good and bad in the films on offer. But what shall it profiteth an online service if it should gain an audience but lose its soul?
If any of the cast and crew of this snickering blasphemy is Catholic (which is likely, Brazil being the largest Catholic country on earth), the head of the Archdiocese of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, Cardinal Orani João Tempesta, ought to make sure none of them receives Holy Communion until they’ve publicly renounced their participation in this scandal.