This review was posted on the www.signis.net (SIGNIS is the Vatican-approved international Catholic organization for communication) website today (December 21). “Stampita” = holy cards. The writer goes to the heart of this Christmas film. I love the familiar style the writer uses for her readers. R
“The Nativity Story” Seen from the Philippines
Manilla, November 25, 2006 (OCDS/Teresa R. Tunay) – The creative and realistic depiction of Mary and Joseph in The Nativity Story can teach the Church a thing or two about ‘packaging’ our Saints for public consumption in this day and age.
“Sana naman kumuha sila ng maganda-gandang Mary! Ang pangit naman ng bibig nito!” (They should have picked a more beautiful Mary! This one has such ugly lips!). “At saka hindi ba medyo me idad na si St. Joseph? Bakit ito, bata?” (And isn’t St. Joseph supposed to be old? Why is this one young?). That was overheard as the guests at the premier showing of The Nativity Story flowed out of the Greenbelt 3 cinema last November 24. Making the comments were two well-heeled elderly ladies.
Two weeks later, at a popular mall during the same movie’s regular run, a 30-something woman said to another as they emerged from the theater: “Okay ‘yung anghel na ‘yun ah-me balbas pero walang pakpak!” (That angel is cool-he has a beard but has no wings!).
This pretty much sums up the big difference in audience perception as far as images of supposedly holy ones go. The Nativity Story should also teach the Church a thing or two about “packaging” our Saints for public consumption in this day and age.
The movie blasts stereotypes – a fact that threatens the characters’ credibility among old school believers – but because the actors play their roles with such depth of characterization, they come across as more human, more real, more reachable. That means more “copyable”, and therefore more appealing to younger Catholics unwittingly searching for more down-to-earth role models.
We’ve been raised on stampita images of Mary: always in demure poses, head bowed down, hands clasped in prayer. We are accustomed to remembering Mary mostly as European artists portray her, in fine, gold-trimmed clothing, with tapering fingers and rosebud lips, gentle eyes untouched by sin, sometimes blonde, other times brunette, but never a hair out of place.
Enter 16-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes, The Nativity Story ’s Mary: olive-skinned, with zits on her face, she unwraps her dark damp hair and wipes her sweat as she slumps beside a tree. She moves as any 14-year old Jewish girl from Nazareth does, pitting olives with her stubby fingers, going about her kitchen chores, even sitting on the earth with knees apart and a bowl of food between her thighs-so unladylike? Indeed, this Mary is rough clay, an earthen water jug, while the stampita virgin so dear to our imagination is a Lladro figurine-flawless, shiny, pastel-colored, dust-proof.
And the stampita Joseph? Of course, he matches the stampita Mary: meek and mild, soul of gentleness, chaste spouse, hands never soiled even when holding a carpenter’s tools. The movie’s Joseph, played by Oscar Isaac, is in the prime of youth, doesn’t hide his admiration of Mary from his friends, tends to throw down things when angered, bursting with so much energy you’d think twice before letting your 14-year old go out with him.
The angel Gabriel is the antithesis of angelic as we also know it from stampitas, classical art, cinema, assorted media, plus chi-chi gift shops in our malls. Wingless, semi Afro-hairstyled, bearded and bemoustached, his appearance in the sky is heralded by the wind rustling through the leaves. He descends on earth and hails Mary, but without his white gossamer robe, even the most open-minded movie goer would wonder, “Who’s this character”? Actor Anthony Siddig is the farthest thing you could ever imagine being cast as a messenger of God. Givehim an Uzi and he’ll look like a terrorist. Stick a cigarette in his mouth and he’ll pass for a durogista. And even if he were a real angel, he’d be more credibly cast as a fallen angel. Anyway, he looks like some character you wouldn’t want to sit next to on a bus.
And yet Mary believed this angel. That’s the whole point! The Nativity Story is all about faith!
We all know by heart the story of Jesus’ birth, but The Nativity Story takes us from the Christmas card prettiness we’re familiar with to the next level-faith, a belief in God that does not hinge on the externals. Mary looks every inch like an ordinary village girl who doesn’t deserve a second glance, but she shows extraordinary strength of character in accepting God’s will conveyed, literally, from out of the blue. Mary’s discerning ability and effective faith enables her to stand upright and immovable before the neighbors’ malicious eyes, and because of it, God comes down to live among men.
Any village boy would have killed to spare himself from becoming the greatest cuckold in history, but not Joseph. Upon Mary’s return from visiting Elizabeth, he gets the shock of his life seeing her bulging stomach. Never having touched Mary at all, the groom elect is troubled, and in his deepest darkest moments may have led the mob in stoning her to death, but he doesn’t. Instead, he shows remarkable self-control and righteousness in deciding to keep her. His goodness is justified when the same hirsute angel appears in his dream to substantiate Mary’s claim. Hence, he becomes Mary’s partner in welcoming the Immanuel into this world.
See-it wasn’t only Mary who said “yes” to God; Joseph did, too. By the creative and realistic depiction of Mary and Joseph, The Nativity Story has offered inspiring models for us, especially the young. Mary and Joseph were nameless faces like most of us, two nobodies in Nazareth from where it was believed nothing good could come, and yet, by their enduring witness to the Divine’s presence in their lives, they became virtual co-creators of God.
Might we not wish to be visited by angels who would sweep us off our doubts so our hearts would be God’s alone? In our prayers and novenas, after telling God of our needs and desires, can we stay a little longer to listen to Him speak of His desires forus?
Our Church – and indeed the world – needs more Marys and Josephs, persons with simple hearts who would put aside personal discomfort in order to follow the dictates of the Divine in their lives. Mary and Joseph obeyed God in spite of their neighbors’ judgment; thus, in time, Jesus became one of us.
We all want a better world, but are we willing to put God as Number One in our life for it? Are we willing to obey God at all cost? Our obedience is a small thank-you gift to offer to The One who has given us life. And that’s the truth.