A man ascends a barren summit. It is Judas, come to collect Jesus and carry him down the mountain on his back, joking and panting as he does so. After bathing in the river and taking part in a henna ceremony, Jesus leaves for Jerusalem. Judas is concerned for his friend’s safety, since the Roman occupiers look upon the prophet as an insurgent.
The wind rustles in the palms; the rock formations in the Arabian desert are shot with breath-taking beauty. Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche’s version of this oft-interpreted biblical material places an emphasis all of its own. The physical dimension of the landscape and the bodies within it is accentuated. In passing, the film also notes the coexistence of the religions at this early juncture. The relationship between the two men is close, with no trace of betrayal. Here, Judas is as much a victim of the power games played by the Romans, the high priest and the Pharisees as Jesus is. Even when the headache-plagued Pontius Pilate knowingly sentences an innocent man to death who deploys words rather than weapons to champion freedom, the tone of this period film remains gentle and muted. This makes it resonate all the stronger in the present.