Some of you may remember my review of the hilarious short (45 minutes) film The Last Hangover by a Brazilian comedy troupe Porta dos Fundos that that has a reputation for skewering religion, politics, culture and other hot-button topics. That earlier film envisaged the Last Supper as a massive drunken blowout that resulted in the apostles waking up the next day to find Jesus missing and having only the vaguest notion of what had happened.
The troupe has returned with an even funnier short film (45 minutes) The First Temptation of Christ that is being streamed on Netflix. The central premise is a surprise 30th birthday party for Jesus thrown by his parents Mary and Joseph when he returns from spending forty days in the wilderness. But things start to go awry because Jesus (played here by the same actor who played Judas in the other film) has brought a friend Orlando with him whom he met during his desert sojourn. God (whom Jesus has known all his life as just his Uncle Vittorio) also turns up and he and Joseph and Mary have to tell the oblivious Jesus the truth about his real parentage, that he is the Son of God with miraculous powers, and what his mission in life is to be. We also have cameos by the Buddha, Shiva, and other gods who all get their share of barbs thrown at them.
The first 30 minutes are utterly hilarious, fast-paced, and full of funny gags. The last 15 minutes, that sets up the climax with a surprise twist, is less so but still good.
I had marked this film down to watch at some point but decided to do so immediately when I ready yesterday about a petition to ban the film because of its implied suggestion that Jesus was gay, though that is not explicitly stated. The petition has already garnered over two million signatures. The comedy troupe’s co-founder Fábio Porchat tries to understand the reaction.
Porchat suggested that Brazil’s strong religious demographic may be the force behind the push for Netflix to drop the film, but added that their intention is misguided.
“For some Catholics here in Brazil, it’s O.K. if Jesus is a bad guy, uses drugs: That’s no problem. The problem is he’s gay. No, he can’t be gay. And that’s interesting because Jesus is everything,” he said. “God is black and white and gay and straight. God is everything. It’s more homophobic to be insulted by a gay Jesus than to make Jesus special.”
Porchat also made clear that Netflix — which Variety notes has had, along with Viacom, a majority stake in the comedy group for two years — has no plans to pull the film.
“[Netflix hasn’t] said anything to us like, ‘Maybe we should stop making the special available.’
They support freedom of speech,” Porchat said, according to Variety.
I can understand why some religious people are upset by this film. After all, there were plenty of protests against Monty Python’s Life of Brian although that film did not really take direct aim at Jesus, mocking instead the period and context of the events surrounding his life. (Jesus only appears briefly in one scene as a tiny figure in the distance giving the Sermon on the Mount.) There has also been some criticism about the portrayal of Orlando as “a bundle of squishy stereotypes” of gay men.
One of the things I like about streaming services is that filmmakers are no longer compelled to stretch out a concept to at least 90 minutes so that it can be shown in cinemas. They can fit the length to the material rather than stretch the material to fit the length. Especially with comedy, shorter is often better.
Here’s the trailer