Na­tiv­ity seren­ity

Townsville Bulletin - - Lettersextra -

FIRSTLY, some good news: The Na­tiv­ity Story is in no way a pre­quel to Mel Gib­son’s the­o­log­i­cally over­wrought The Pas­sion of the Christ.

Se­condly, some not-so-good news: The Na­tiv­ity Story is in no way nearly as much fun as the live the­atri­cal ver­sion we’ve all seen star­ring stage-struck kinder­garten kids.

And fi­nally, one re­as­sur­ingly plain fact: in an age where the Christ­mas movie has been hi­jacked by ram­pant com­mer­cial­ism and all things sen­ti­men­tally Amer­i­can, The Na­tiv­ity Story marks a re­fresh­ing re­turn to what De­cem­ber 25 is re­ally all about.

In an as­ton­ish­ing change of pace from her last movie, the skate-punk docu­d­rama The Lords of Dogtown, di­rec­tor Catherine Hard­wicke takes an un­der­stand­ably gen­tle and re­spect­ful approach to the tale of the birth of baby Je­sus.

It is im­por­tant to bear in mind that Hard­wicke and screen­writer Mike Rich had very lit­tle solid in­for­ma­tion to work with in flesh­ing out The Na­tiv­ity Story to a full-length fea­ture.

Only the New Tes­ta­ment’s gospels ac­cord­ing to Luke and Matthew make any ref­er­ence to the drama that un­folded on that starry night in Beth­le­hem, and nei­ther work sup­plies enough ma­te­rial to fill the de­mands of a tra­di­tional three-act screen­play.

There­fore, quite aptly, a leap of faith is re­quired from the viewer for The Na­tiv­ity Story to pass muster as both a work of en­ter­tain­ment and spir­i­tual en­light­en­ment.

The first half of the pic­ture lopes along at a leisurely clip as it sketches out the back story of how the teenage Nazarene Mary ( Whale Rider’s Keisha Cas­tle-Hughes) and her decade-older neigh­bour Joseph (Os­car Isaac) came to be hus­band and wife.

Turns out Joe earned him­self a shot at an ar­ranged mar­riage af­ter sav­ing the ass (as don­keys were called back then) of Mary’s fam­ily dur­ing a dis­pute with Ro­man tax col­lec­tors.

A head­strong 16-year-old, Mary is not all that thrilled with her new spouse un­til she is vis­ited by the an­gel Gabriel (Alexan­der Sid­dig), who in­forms her she will soon be with child. This poses a prob­lem, as Mary and Joseph are yet to com­plete the year of manda­tory celibacy that ap­plies to ar­ranged mar­riages in Judea.

The Na­tiv­ity Story truly comes into its own once the cou­ple un­der­take an ar­du­ous trek to Beth­le­hem, where Joseph must reg­is­ter for the Ro­man Em­pire cen­sus.

Af­ter al­most drown­ing and starv­ing en route, a heav­ily preg­nant Mary dis­cov­ers the only place she can give birth is a makeshift stable at the back of an inn. The all-im­por­tant cli­max of the pic­ture — cul­mi­nat­ing in an iconic im­age recog­nised the world over — is han­dled beau­ti­fully by Hard­wicke and her team.

Not even the oc­ca­sional hammy in­ter­rup­tion from those fa­bled Three Wise Men (one of whom looks dis­turbingly like Good­Fel­las gang­ster Joe Pesci) or mean old King Herod (Ciaran Hinds) can di­min­ish the last­ing note of in­spi­ra­tional seren­ity on which The Na­tiv­ity Story ends.

The Na­tiv­ity Story,

Keisha Cas­tle-Hughes

and Os­car Isaac in

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