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ASTRA 2021

Review: A Black Jesus


- Luca Lucchesi goes back to his father’s town on Sicily to tell a story of faith and xenophobia

Review: A Black Jesus

There are perhaps hundreds of documentaries that explore, explain and expand on the migratory phenomenon that took Europe by surprise last decade, but Italian director Luca Lucchesi tackles it from a new vantage point in his documentary feature debut, A Black Jesus [+see also:
film profile
, now screening in the main competition at the Astra Film Festival: a small Sicilian village worships a black statue of Jesus, while rejecting the African refugees being hosted in the settlement.

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A Black Jesus, a documentary produced by famed German filmmaker Wim Wenders, creates a compelling juxtaposition, putting together Christian faith (with its enduring message about acceptance and favouring those less blessed than ourselves) and xenophobia, all set in a picturesque little village which seems to have amassed all the shades of tan on the walls of its buildings, from orange to brown. In Siculiana, perhaps the most joyous yearly event comes every 3 May with the Feast of the Crucifix, when a heavy statue of a black Jesus is put on an even heavier pedestal, and then carried by dozens of men through the narrow streets of the village.

Yes, the documentary may show in detail the deep emotion and fervour that the residents feel before and during the procession, but Lucchesi’s interest doesn’t reside only here, as in the very first scene, we see African immigrants talking about the paradox we find at the very heart of the situation: “The people here do not like black people, but they worship a black statue.” It is indeed an interesting point of departure, and the documentary sets out to get to the bottom of it, presenting several, valid points of view over its running time of 90 minutes.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the doc concerns the community’s future. Besides the prospects of the refugees, who await their documents (which most probably will never come), it could be that the locals have no future either. We see teenagers yearning to leave for a better life in another part of Italy, or indeed the world, or elderly people complaining that there are no children playing any more on the streets of Siculiana, meaning that in a generation or two, the village will be deserted. And yet, the community rejects the newcomers, seeing them as intruders or even criminals, when perhaps they are saviours ready to inject new blood into the ageing community.

From the point of view of the refugees, the most luminous protagonist in the documentary is without doubt Edward, a 19-year-old man from Ghana. He shares his experiences, and we see him dumbfounded by his new situation: without work and documents, living in a country that rejects him while it expects him to learn its language. And yet, no matter how difficult his current situation may be, it’s still a thousand times better than what he could expect if he were to go back to Ghana.

A Black Jesus is without doubt an invitation to communication and inclusion. Although it explores the societal issues (a finger is pointed at the Italian government) that may keep the two communities, the locals and the refugees, apart, it also shows a beautiful moment when four refugees are welcomed as crucifix carriers at the feast. We see the impressive effect that communication and meeting halfway can have on such situations, but no matter how communities interact, government policy is the only way to reach a long-term solution.

A Black Jesus was produced by Germany’s Road Movies and co-produced by NDR - Norddeutscher Rundfunk. The international sales are handled by filmdelights.

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