You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Big Question

In the intriguing and surprisingly witty docu, "The Big Question," the king of all queries is "What is God?" The answers gathered by filmmakers/actors Francesco Cabras and Alberto Molinari range from deep devotion to solid skepticism.

With: Mel Gibson, Monica Bellucci, Jim Caviezel. (English, Italian dialogue)

In the intriguing and surprisingly witty docu, “The Big Question,” the king of all queries is “What is God?” The answers gathered by filmmakers/actors Francesco Cabras and Alberto Molinari range from deep devotion to solid skepticism. Cleverly, the documakers — cast in small roles in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” — interviewed that film’s cast, crew (including Gibson) and advisers as well as locals in ancient Matera in southern Italy. An in-the-works longer version, set at around 80 minutes, will fit commercial feature proportions for strong worldwide interest, though current shorter version feels like just the right length.

Taking a cue from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s amusing docu, “Comizi d’amore,” in which the director asked Italians their thoughts on love and sex, Cabras and Molinari approach their weighty subject with a light touch, structuring their work along a series of questions bridged by brief, slightly mystical and purely visual transitions.

The thrust of the questions is often personal — “Who is God to you?” or “If you were born on the other side of the world, would you have the same religion?” Yet, some of the questions are deliberately provocative — “Why are depictions of God solely male?” or “What happens after life?”

With only Gibson and “Passion” stars Jim Caviezel (shown briefly, drenched in bloody makeup) and Monica Bellucci recognizable and no respondents identified on screen, there is less a concern for who is answering than the thoughts themselves. This subjectivity is perhaps best seen when various men of the cloth speak for the camera: While most respondents dressed in priestly garb predictably enunciate absolute certainty in their beliefs, a Jesuit priest speaks in far more human and vulnerable terms about his own struggles with alcoholism and his sense of humility.

To an extent, this vulnerability jibes with Gibson, who freely admits that he was spiritually lost from ages 19 to 35, and “if left to my own devices, I’d devolve into chaos.” Though Gibson never speaks in specific terms about his own affiliation with the ultra-orthodox Catholic offshoot faith, the Legion of Christ, his comments about himself suggest the need for extreme religious discipline.

Yet “The Big Question” is as ecumenical as possible (one costumed actor observes, “Five billion non-Christians can’t be wrong”) and is even open to atheists’ freely expressed views. What truly — and sometimes comically — enhances the discussion, though, is the frequent and clever device of interviewing actors in full dress, who express generally modern views of God while in ancient-looking garb, thus underlining that these are questions not only big in size, but as old as time.

The visual bridges between topics teeter on the purely pretentious, featuring a white half-wolf, half-dog wandering the crimson-colored streets and hills around Matera. At too many points during these passages, the fine video lensing tends toward merely pretty pictures, but a passage showing the animal hesitating and then finally crossing a small bridge becomes effectively symbolic.

The Big Question


Production: A Ganga presentation. (International sales: Ganga, Rome.) Produced by Francesco Cabras, Alberto Molinari. Directed by Francesco Cabras, Alberto Molinari. Story, Cabras.

Crew: Camera (Blue Video color, DV), Cabras, Molinari; editors, Molinari, Francesco Struffi; music, Molinari; additional music, Kamal Sabri, Enkh Jargal , Khaoticos, Maurizio Iorio ; sound, Alessio Costantino; associate producer, Valeria Leonardi; assistant directors, Nando Irene , Simone Spinazze ; second unit director, Francesco G. Raganato; second unit camera, Raganato. Reviewed at AFI Film Festival, Los Angeles, Nov. 8, 2004. (Also in Turin Film Festival.) Running time: 66 MIN.

With: With: Mel Gibson, Monica Bellucci, Jim Caviezel. (English, Italian dialogue)

More Film

  • (L to R) VIGGO MORTENSEN and

    Will Oscar Nominations Give This Year's Contenders a Box Office Boost?

    With nominees like “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “A Star Is Born,” the 2018 class of movies proved the Oscars don’t need a popular films category to recognize movies that also made bank in theaters. But now that the academy has selected this year’s crop of awards hopefuls, is there any green left to squeeze [...]

  • A24 Buys Sequel to Tilda Swinton's

    Sundance: A24 Buys Sequel to Tilda Swinton's Romance-Drama 'The Souvenir'

    A24 has bought the North American rights to Tilda Swinton’s romance-drama “The Souvenir – Part 2,” closing the deal on the eve of the Sundance Film Festival. “The Souvenir” is set to make its world premiere at Sundance on Jan. 27, followed by playing in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival in February. [...]

  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

    Chiwetel Ejiofor Adds Authenticity to Directorial Debut by Shooting in Malawi

    When actor Chiwetel Ejiofor optioned the rights for the 2009 best-seller “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” penning the screenplay for a feature directorial debut that world-premieres in Sundance and then appears in the Berlin Film Festival before being released globally by Netflix this spring, colleagues floated the idea of shooting the Malawi-set film in tried-and-tested [...]

  • ally billboard a star is born

    Oscar Campaign Spending Reaches New Heights in Competitive Season

    The escalating cost of awards campaigning may reach an all-time high this season as heavyweights such as “Roma” and “A Star Is Born” battle for Oscar gold. The quest for an Academy Award has always been expensive, but Netflix’s hunger to nab its first best picture win, coupled with the presence of legitimate studio contenders [...]

  • The Wizard of Oz

    'The Wizard of Oz' to Return to Theaters for 80th Anniversary

    “The Wizard of Oz” is returning to theaters this weekend for a special limited engagement marking the 80th anniversary of the film’s Hollywood premiere. Fathom Events, TCM, and Warner Bros. are re-releasing the beloved family film in select theaters across the country beginning on Sunday, Jan. 27, with additional dates on Tuesday, Jan. 29, and Wednesday [...]

  • Mandatory Credit: Photo by Jacek Bednarczyk/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

    Jonas Mekas, Influential Experimental Filmmaker, Dies at 96

    Jonas Mekas, the Lithuania-born filmmaker who started Film Culture magazine and the organization that became New York’s Anthology Film Archives, died Wednesday. He was 96. Anthology Film Archives wrote on Instagram, “He will be greatly missed but his light shines on.” View this post on Instagram Dear Friends, Jonas passed away quietly and peacefully early [...]

  • Annapurna Hire

    Annapurna Ups Sue Naegle to Chief Content Officer, Names Ivana Lombardi President of Film

    Sue Naegle has been named chief content officer at Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures. Naegle joined the company as head of television in 2016, and will now oversee development and production in film, TV, video games, and the company’s theater division. As part of the reorganization, Ivana Lombardi has been named president of film, a role [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content