Searching for the Star Child

  • Author(s): Harlan Kennedy
  • When: 1984-09
  • Where: Film Comment
  • Beware of the dogma. This warning should be posted every time an artist attempts to spring religious myth from intellectual captivity. Dogma is the snarling hound of orthodoxy that guards these myths; but there are other stern sentinels. One sentiment--the Biblical picture books we all grew up with, the Nativity plays and Christmas mangers and gaily painted Madonnes. Another is the social prohibition against giving offence. Why needlessly set of the alarms of your neighbor's closely guarded sensibility and beliefs? Ermanno Olni's Camminacammina is to doctrinaire thought and traditional religion what Houdini was to jails. In its theatrical version (the full TV series runs four and a half hours), the film takes 160 minutes worth of humane and joyful liberties with the Journey of the Magi. It's no wonder that initially the film got an adult rating in its native Italy for fear of what it might do to the minds of good Christian children. A movie like E.T. can disguise its resurrection parable in sci-fi clothing and get away without ruffling anyone's psyche. But Olmi shamelessly juggles frozen-in-Scripture details of the St. Matthew account of the Three Wise Men. He also throws into the air gobbets from ancient folklore versions of the story, plus his own impromptu variations.

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