Garrel did not originally get credit for writing and directing The Virgin’s Bed, where he brings us flower child Jesus. He didn’t have the hindsight that he can’t flesh out that concept and that someone else will. Jesus was never the most masculine figure. However this film’s version of him (Pierre Clementi) is a kid. With mommy issues. This story isn’t an adaptation of the Gospels of Matthew or Mark. In those renditions, Christ is either a poet or a historical figure. He instead went by the way of Luke, John, or even Judas, versions that surround the Savior with ‘strong’ women. But Garrel seems to have made the mistake of believing that strong women and men can’t coexist. He emasculates the Lord in the process, also perhaps doing so to depict a human instead of the myth.
I’m all for humanizing heroes but this is not the way to do it. Garrel also tries Bergmanesque visuals, hinting of a chiaroscuro that we see in his later work. However these techniques seem artificial under his young hands. Its first image is of Marie (Zouzou), clad in all black in bed, waiting for her snotty son. When he comes, wearing what looks like a white onesie. She tells him about the precarious situation in the German border in the 1960s. She does this while placing a crown of thorns in his head. Hearing this news makes him ask his Father upstairs why he brought him into this world. The Bohemian director re-imagines Christ unready, facing the volatility of his time. That way he represents any generation’s anxieties. Eh.
Jesus enters Jerusalem’s ruins, infamously riding a donkey. That visual is the most emphatic of many in the film. He looks physically smaller than the oppressive cavalry (including Jean-Pierre Kalfon) he’s trying to convert. He doesn’t get a word in, Garrel doesn’t let him. The only times we see him talk is him whining to Marie or to Marie Magdalene (also Zouzou). That is not and has never been the point of the Jesus story. Magdalene demands stones for his time and attention, which is an interesting yet inadequate symbolic twist to her character. This film is not the best one to start in exploring Garrel’s work. It does hint, again, on his themes and styles that he will perfect decades later. He gets better because there’s really no other place to go from.
Featuring a talk from film scholar Sally Shafto this screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Sat Jan 27th at 6:15PM.