Berlinale 2024 | Martin Scorsese ponders switch from gangsters to Jesus


Hollywood icon Martin Scorsese has always been a storyteller of great depth and complexity, crafting cinematic masterpieces that delve into the human soul. On a brisk evening in Berlin, adorned in the glamor of the city’s internationally renowned film festival, the esteemed director took a moment to reflect upon a career that has been as surprising as it has been influential. Gracing the Berlinale red carpet with his daughter Francesca, Scorsese arrived not only to be showered with acclaim for his cinematic contributions but also to tease the artistic horizons he has yet to explore.

Fresh off the success of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which is making waves with 10 Oscar nominations, Scorsese, an auteur with a storied career dedicated to exploring the lives of morally ambiguous men, hinted at a dramatic pivot in thematic focus. The director, whose formative years included considering a life in the clergy, admitted he was contemplating a film centered on the life of Jesus Christ. This revelation comes following his encounters with Pope Francis, who has inspired the filmmaker to reconceptualize the very essence of Christian storytelling.

“I want to make something unique and different that could be thought-provoking,” he mused in the press conference, showing no signs of resting on his laurels even at the age of 81. These musings suggest a charting of new spiritual waters since his controversial yet critically lauded “The Last Temptation of Christ” in 1988, which depicted a very human savior and incited opposition so fierce Scorsese faced death threats.

The occasion for the night was the presentation of the Berlinale’s Honorary Golden Bear, a noteworthy accolade celebrating Scorsese not only for his filmmaking prowess but also for his tireless efforts in film preservation. Rainer Rother of the German Cinemathek lauded these contributions, acknowledging a shared quest that began in the 1970s with film luminaries such as Steven Spielberg, Paul Schrader, and Jay Cocks. This award further cements Scorsese’s legacy as an artist deeply committed to the cinematic form, both in creating and in preserving its history.

Scorsese reminisced about the challenges of discovering quality film prints during the pre-war period, noting the initial scarcity of global cinema available to eager cinephiles like himself. Now, celebrating the plethora of cinematic treasures available, he showed an enthused appreciation for contemporary works including Japanese cinema and Celine Song’s “Past Lives.” His affinity for global storytelling reflects his belief that cinema will withstand the rapid technological changes reshaping the industry.

True to form, Scorsese offered his perspective on these shifts, “I don’t think it’s dying… It’s transforming.” For him, cinema’s resilience lies in its capacity to adapt, providing platforms for unique voices whether they are on social media or in traditional storytelling formats. His words were not those of a veteran filmmaker waxing nostalgic about the past, but of someone who embraces the evolution of art and self-expression.

For Scorsese, however, the golden hours of the evening and the accompanying accolades were tinged with a poignant awareness of life’s fleeting nature. “I became very sad to realize, of course, the impermanence of life, as we all know, but does it have to be that impermanent so soon?” His reflective mood did not cast a shadow but instead illuminated a desire to make the most of his time through the medium he revered—by communing with others through the transformative power of art.

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