January 7, 2021


Review by Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp

TRAILER:  https://vimeo.com/488746762

The forty-three minute filmed play, written and directed by Denise Vi Flaten is an imaginative, lovely drama of Joseph and Mary just thirty minutes before the Savior is born. The narrator is none other than Jonathan Roumie (Jesus in “The Chosen”)—however, the narration is more like a few brief, mostly unnecessary stage directions. Even if it was supposed to be a fun little device, it doesn’t really work, is disruptive and takes us out of contemplating the scene before us. Thankfully it isn’t often! There is one super-ugly and jarring line (is it a joke?) right after Jesus’ birth. Joseph quotes Isaiah, and Mary blurts out the exact chapter and verse. What is this, Bible Trivia? But these are minor flaws.

The setting is a stage populated with hay bales and a manger. The loquacious couple “defer to one another out of reverence for Christ”: affectionate ribbing, Scripture references, religious concerns and also solo dialogues with God—which all help us to see from a very human standpoint what the holy pair were going through. Such love and respect between these spouses—a lesson for all married couples. Joseph is a fierce protector of Madonna and Child—feisty and angry and frustrated that he can’t provide more for his wards. There are ample “joys and tears mingled all the while” (a hymn to St. Joseph) with not a few premonitions of the Passion. A few well-placed sound effects are delightful. The actors are quite good.

Inspired by the writings of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, Maria Valtorta and Venerable Mary of Agreda, the vocabulary aims for a first-century feel, but is speckled with a few stray contemporary-sounding expressions. Some, of course, will object to the fact that Valtorta is cited as a source, due to her writings having sketchy, extremely fraught and conditional Church approval. However, I feel we should just look at the play—the final outcome of these inspirations—on its own merits or lack thereof.

Joseph is about ten years older than Mary and a work in progress (he’s rather impatient). But then he effuses about the little Lord about to be miraculously birthed: “My God and my son!” “How will I not die of joy holding God in my arms?”

My favorite moment is when Mary cries and prays to God in her dire straits (the momentousness of what is unfolding). Haven’t we all felt—even though we understand God is with us—fearful and desolate when we are in the depths of suffering, or facing what we know will be a difficult future? Mary and Joseph’s heartfelt prayers give a hint of their rich interior lives. And their conversations (basically what the entire play is made of) are not ordinary. We know they talked, right? What would they have said to each other? I love the conversations of the Holy Family in my favorite Jesus movie (“The Young Messiah”), but they are cursory and minimal. “30 Minutes B.C.” dialogues are a feast. Methinks we should all talk about and to God more like this.

This is an utterly Catholic play, utterly loyal to God and man. Mary is slightly more the protagonist than Joseph. She is as humble as she is strong. I am changed by watching this play. Theology of the Body “feminists” like myself (who appreciate men and believe in our non-identical equality and complementariness) will love what Mary has to say about herself as a woman, how she loves and accepts her nature and embraces her (divine) motherhood, mission and vocation in life, body and soul.

The strength of virginity (in this interpretation, Joseph has also been committed to perpetual virginity his whole life), the strength of parenthood, the strength of human and divine love is central and the narrative’s guiding star.

This depiction will not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially if you prefer the mystery of a “Silent Night,” a church tableau, or a simple, sparkly Christmas card. I approach it as an artistic attempt to fill in the blanks, which I don’t feel like I need (although some earnestly do). The Scriptures are plenty for me. But I can always find something inspiring in almost any Bible film, drama, painting or other artistic representation. Well done, thou good and faithful thespians!


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