First-Hand Review of the Vatican Premiere of "Nativity!"
Slideshow of images and audio from the Premiere
Listen here to "The Nativity Story" Vatican Premiere:
First, let me start by saying how well organized the event was and how particularily hard the ‘Fondazione Pro Musica e Arte Sacra’ worked to promote it. The fact that there were people still trying to get into the already packed auditorium, attests to the remarkable job done by the promoters here in Rome.
Security was tight given the recent tensions Pope Benedict has had to face in light of the controversial medieval citation and his impending trip to Turkey. Everyone was checked similarily to the procedure you would find in an airport. Beneath the great Bernini Colonnade surrounding the outer Piazza of St. Peter’s Basilica, people had to walk through the sensor machine and any bags were put through the x-ray conveyor.
An anxious and curious walk to the Hall followed, in which the film would be shown for free, if I may add, to the fortunate crowds who made it in. Two-thousand of the seven had reserved seats as they belonged to groups and so they were assured a viewing. On each seat there was a program and an envelope in which one could make a donation for the school they would be building as a result, in Galilee, for children of all faiths. This was a wonderful gesture in keeping with the main theme of the film—the great poverty and helplessness of salvation history’s three most iconic figures—yet each gently aided by a divinely-willed protection and blessing.
At 5:30pm, there were still some people up and about, yet an elegantly dressed man walked up to the microphone and introduced Archbishop John P. Foley who has been the Catholic Church’s president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications since 1984.
The Archbishop, with a very calm and heavily accented Italian, first asked for a show of hands of all those people who spoke it. About 80 percent raised their hands. Then he asked who spoke English. About 50 percent raised there hands. That’s about 70 percent of Italians who don’t speak a word of English (that’s some of my disappointment for this premiere being translated into Italian coming out… don’t mind me!). Given the 50 percent, he said a few words in English at the end, basically thanking various protagonists in the endeavor and above all, the director Catherine Hardwicke, screenwriter Mike Rich, all the actors, mentioning those present, Oscar Isaac and Shohreh Aghdashloo. Each of the four stood as their names were read, turned and looked at all the people, smiled and bowed. I particularly found Oscar Isaac’s acknowledgment fascinating since he did it in sets of three quick bows, almost like the sign of the cross, with a huge smile! Perhaps it’s how they do it in Guatemala and definitely how they don’t in Miami! A special thanks went to them ‘for being courageous in a time where it is now hard to say Merry Christmas’ to somebody.
The Archbishop then introduced Gigi Proietti, a well-known and—judging from the applause at his intro—highly regarded Italian actor, singer and duplicator (does voice-overs in films translated to the Italian) who impassonately read the respective Gospels wherein the infancy narratives of Christ are to be found. I must admit, he gave me goose bumps!
Immediately after the applause, lights went out, and any previous rustling about fell into dead silence as light rays from the distant camera began to flow onto the normal cinema-sized big screen.
Now I must say, in this review I could give you all the fine details, and they were fine in all senses of that word, but that would be mean. Let me just say, there was something awefully similar to ‘The Passion’ at the onset, in the way the camera pans from above the clouds onto a moonlit Jerusalem! And from the beginning, you could sense that you were in for a marvellous work of art. In the end, you might even agree with me and call it a masterpiece.
A lot of energy went into detail. The clothes, the sets, the personalities of key figures, the cultures of that time all of it meticulously brought back to life before our eyes. A lot of this is covered in the clips provided at the official website: www.thenativitystory.com. I’m trying to stay away from what’s already been said in other reviews.
The three Kings are just having a ball! They too are shown to have differing characters, and not merely the men drawn to God born in a stable. They also tease each other and try to make their journey amusing while at the same time appreciating what was unfolding before them. Let me just say, it’s ingenious the way they interpreted their calculations of the stars. The gifts they brought and the way that they presented them (gestures, tone in voice and facial expressions) convey that although they were foreign to Judaism, they nevertheless had deep insight into the Person of Jesus. Each of the three gifts meant something different as we all know, and were telling of the Child’s messianic nature.
Joseph too provides us with a giggle or two. From what you’ve most probably already seen in the clips, you know that he’s going to provide us with some humour throughout the film including him speaking to things other than human and angelic!
The large audience was extremely silent up until the sudden emotional and heartfelt applause at the birth of Jesus. Joseph holds him up and weeps of joy. The mystically deep soundtrack was expressive of the all-important moment, as were the rays streaming down on that one town in Judea. This is fascinating. Usually at a premiere, every main actor receives an applause upon their first appearance within the picture. This was not the case here. Rather, it was Baby Jesus who got the first of the only two loud applauses throughout the film! The other came at a ‘Hallmark’ cinematographic shot zooming out of the manger scene where shepherds, kings and animals were adoring. The audience seemed to be saying, ‘Wow, what a beautiful and artistic version of the manger scene!’ So the cinematography, and the tones of colour which inundated the entire film have been on par to ‘The Passion’ quality wise, and those were undoubtedly some of the best we’ve ever scene as attested to by many critics in their praise of Caleb Deschanel’s work that made Mel Gibson’s work look like a classic painting.
The couple of hours or so were absorbed quite quickly. You ended up wishing the film went on with the rest of the ‘story’. But you realize that the goal has been accomplished—an effective and provocative re-telling of the birth of Christ in all its wonder using today’s cinematic means.
I’ll conclude by stating how much I wished I could have met and, for what it would have been worth, thanked the cast and crew present for their awesome and energetic work, but it was so crammed that the only way you could move, was towards the door and out. I did manage to get some pictures, though not of these four, but of the Auditorium and the people in general.
My final word: You will love this film sure to be one of those you’d revisit at the appropriate time, and perhaps even at those times when you will need a little extra hope to keep you going that extra mile, as Mary and Joseph did.
Footage from the Premiere