In the past, both Pier Paolo Pasolini and Mel Gibson filmed the crucifixion of Jesus in the southern Italian city of Matera. In 2019, Matera became the backdrop for a new passion play. This time, Jesus was played by the Cameroonian political activist Yvan Sagnet, who defends the rights of the illegal workers exploited by a mafia-led agricultural system. Many of these workers are refugees from Africa who have nowhere else to go.
The New Gospel is both a live recording of the play, and a glimpse behind the scenes. We see Sagnet grow into his role as Jesus, while in between mobilizing groups of laborers working nearby Matera into a large-scale protest dubbed the “Revolt of Dignity.” And dignity is precisely what this film is aiming towards in its portraits of activists and actors alike.
The Swiss director Milo Rau is also artistic director of the Belgian city theater NTGent. He wants his work to “not only portray the world, but change it.” This project, then, is more than simply a film or a play, because it has led to better housing for the migrants, and the founding of a Fair Trade label for tomatoes.