Jesus of Montreal is a film rife with beautifully poignant, as well as uncomfortably visceral scenes and sequences. Most of which allude to, or mirror, a destination in the journey and ministry of Jesus Christ. One of the more well-crafted scenes is the Chez Charron restaurant meeting between Daniel and Richard, the lawyer, above the courthouse. Specifically, the tracking shot of the walk from the elevator to the other end of the hall.
This scene is a modern day translation of Satan’s temptation of Jesus Christ in Matthew 4:5-9. Denys Arcand’s decision to place the environment of the scene thirty some odd stories in the sky places the characters on top of the world, informing a God complex, while still remaining subject to earthly limitations. The images–the sky, the clouds, the tall buildings–through the large window, never allow the characters to disavow themselves from their lofty positions.
The overriding question of what Daniel will do to get out of his legal troubles is made even more vital by his appearance with the only legal ally that has presented himself. What has just happened, in a prior scene, is Daniel has refused legal counsel, and it is understood that this has put his chance at freedom in jeopardy. As he appears with the same man that he refused, the audience questions whether Daniel is finally going to make an earnest effort to save himself from jail. They are hoping that he will accept the lawyer’s help. As the walk begins, Richard the lawyer appears to be gentle and magnanimous, but gradually peels away the layers, revealing his darker core.
The principals of the scene, Daniel, Richard, and Richard’s female companion, are strategically positioned, adding to an assault on Daniel’s senses with palpable temptation. Richard’s symbolic role as Satan is accomplished through a subtle aggression, and disarming guidance. His clearly defined objectives place him in the same offensive position from which Satan operated. As Satan came first with solutions to satisfy Jesus’s hunger, Richard comes with a solution to satisfy Daniel’s legal troubles. Richard’s objective is to sell himself to Daniel, and gain his trust so that he might “exploit” him one day. Daniel, like Jesus, takes a more defensive and detracting approach, concerning himself only with fulfilling his ministry, the Passion play. His legal troubles are the obstacle to returning to that play, making Richard’s temptations and Daniel’s needs an interesting dichotomy.
The scene, and its beats are structured around Richard’s different tactics. As they begin their walk down the hall, Richard re-introduces himself to the audience, and to Daniel. Placing the female companion securely between Daniel and Richard, is awkward, if not strategic. This indicates a subtle offering of the young lady as a sexual object. This positioning provides the visceral subtext of the entire first beat, while Richard overtly provides backstory of what he can and has done for others, using the evil-indicating word choice of “exploit”. Richard’s subconscious desire is established–he wants to possess another “client”, –er, “friend”. The backstory of where he has taken these friends from, and where he has brought them, implies a record of souls he has purchased. This first beat ends with Richard’s boastful confession “She’s 17,” –after she exits the scene, a last ditch effort to strike a lustful nerve.
The second beat begins as Richard tests Daniel’s vanity and honesty, by suggesting he publish a novel, even though he’s not a writer. The solution is simply to let someone else write his life’s memoirs for him, indicating a past experience with such questionable practices. This peels away another layer towards Richard’s core, by creating an even deeper backstory. Daniel disregards, if not, refuses this notion of earning money. This ends the second beat.
As the walk comes to an end, Arcand directs a face-off, where Richard and Daniel’s profiles counter each other, with the expansive city between them through the overlooking window. This is the central event, the climax of the scene, which provides the visual context for every other detail that led up to this point. Even Sub Events, such as Richard’s slick and seamless interactions with associates along the way help with his snake-like characterization. This final beat’s offering mirrors Satan’s in that he offers Daniel the entire city, indicating that it could “all be his”. Likewise, from a high mountain, Satan’s final offer to Jesus was all the kingdoms of the world. The scene ends with a shot of Daniel and Richard peering out of the window together, overlooking the city. Unlike scripture the door is left ajar, and a question of whether he’s actually contemplating the offer is left open to interpretation.
The Daniel character not only, made doctrine-sound choices, but was also equipped by the actor with a consistent temperament throughout the film. An unflappable, and even-keeled Daniel was a constant through every trial. He moved forward through the script’s journey with a tangible singular focus. Even in violent outbursts, he made sure to accomplish the scene with the same control. The actor’s subtle nuance, with which varying scene intensities were handled, indicated a man impervious to the trials of this world. This demeanor was the consistent glue that allowed the Jesus parallel to resonate. The scene reminds me of how simple it appears to remain faithful in times of great want and need, while a great struggle may be waging internally.