This article tells the story behind the making of a short film, which documented the re-enacting of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” 10 years after this photographic event, we attempted to put together the remnants, while seeing how time works and what kind of tricks the mind can play in its relationship with reality. The result, a mirror image of the first film that was created, which revealed many surprising things about ourselves. The producer of this project is the PressOne Foundation and the film can be found at the end of the article.
The Price of an Idea
A really good idea has to do two things: fascinate you and scare you. It won’t let you have a moment of peace and will eventually become an obsession. It only becomes concrete if you’ve graduated from the second phase, which is the fear and horror of carrying it out, step by step, as it was delivered to you from Above.
I believe truly interesting ideas, that are at once terrifying, cannot come from ourselves. They can’t come from within because we try to avoid difficulty and heaviness at all costs. Good ideas are always uncomfortable, exasperating, and apparently impossible to accomplish. So you either swallow that hard pill or you lick your chops and carry on with the regular, lukewarm undertakings that keep you out of the fire.
But as soon as you decide to throw yourself into the big idea, with the same level of enthusiasm you’d have while waiting for facial surgery, you just as feverishly wait to see the an end to the madness, which only God Himself can be blamed for planting in your head.
Good ideas are sometimes delivered to you with the same dose of absurdity of the commands that were thrown at soldiers in the Romanian communist army – also from up above. Once, I was forced to relocate a puddle using the shoelaces from my boots. I have yet to experience something as aberrant.
The Last Supper of Scandal
In short, it one day occurred to me that I should re-enact the fresco of “The Last Supper,” the famous and extensively re-interpreted work of Leonardo da Vinci. I like this painting and I appreciate it especially because of its sincerity. It’s spells things out bluntly: the Last Supper was a scandal, not a slew of politically correct statements, such as:
“Saint Peter, with all due respect, leave the chatter alone and please pass the bowl of salad and to your Kingdom colleagues.”
As in the case of the so-called “triumphal” entry of Christ into Jerusalem, to cries of hatred and Hosanna! on Palm Sunday, (seriously, how much triumph can there be in dragging sandals in the dust and riding a poor donkey?), and in the case of the Last Supper, tradition gives us a vaguely distorted impression.
When it comes to the Last Supper, we are always presented with an idyllic image of a peaceful and mysterious final dinner with friends, taking place before the drama of the crucifixion. Words are measured and serious. The watchword is piety. You would say that the scene is taken out of a movie about Socrates, who is serenely and elegantly giving final instructions to his disciples while awaiting the exemplary and dignified death of a teacher.
On the contrary, Jesus does everything upside down. He angers, shocks and throws people into a fog. First of all, he takes off his garments and instead of giving a farewell speech that’s well orchestrated, he frenetically washes his disciples’ feet. He talks about his imminent suffering with serenity. Worse, he casually announces, as naturally as possible, that among his disciples is a traitor.
With this remark, he ruins the entire Passover feast, the dinner falls apart and all the frustrations and suspicions the disciples have against each other explode. The 12 are divided into four groups of three and debate the issue of betrayal. They defend themselves, point fingers and swears on their mother’s lives.
Shopping for Saints
One thing was clear for us when we decided to re-enact the Last Supper: not only would we depict this chaotic image of the Last Supper, but we would reinterpret it in a special way: baroque, excessive and exuberant. We were going to throw the ultimate feast. Where would it take place? On a stage but with no audience.
And we wouldn’t do it in just any way, but would choose stand-in actors who were carefully selected from a homeless shelter. They lived there in the winter, seeking refuge from the cold, from loneliness and hunger. In the spring, they would spread through the city like wildfire, like a bewildered flock of sheep descending into a verdant valley.
We also needed a main character. The Jesus I found was an exotic visual artist and pub owner, at the time. The Dinner was a full-fledged, gigantic feast. I not only took part in a unique and crazy event, but it also brought me fundamental life experiences . However, we would only realize this a whole later.
10 years after this event took place, my good friend, Monica Lăzurean-Gorgan, her team from Manifest Film and I decided to revisit the experience. We wanted to see what was left of it, how memory works and how it fictionalizes reality. We began the work of a detective.
The shelter had closed and the apostles had scattered: some on earth, others in heaven. Alas, I only found a few. On this occasion, I realized that the differences between the recuperated lives of our borrowed apostles and my life are mostly in form, not in essence.
As it were, the apostles are people like us, with ridiculous obsessions and fixations. They are naïve people whose trivial lives bear the aura of small exceptional events, which time and memory have recorded and shaped at will. We basically created a documentary that features the mirror image of ourselves.
A short story emerged, one that is vaguely useless and that encompasses pure absurdity. Besides two small festivals, nobody really wanted the documentary, so it lay dusty and forgotten for a while, in an obscure corner of the internet. Today, we will refresh it and bring it out into the light once again. You don’t have to like it.
However, if on my deathbed, someone makes me quickly tell them a meaningful thing I did, something that makes me not regret the many years I roamed the earth, the first thing that would come to mind would be:
“Well, the Apostles. Watch the documentary with the Apostles, you can find it somewhere on Youtube, among millions of other movies and videos…”
Which Apostle Would You Like to Be?
Who really are these Apostles, celebrated today with so much pomp during the holy days of Christianity? Aren’t they the raggedy former disciples and descendants of a strange Rabbi, who spoke in riddles and unjustly cursed innocent fig trees?
And weren’t many of these 12 disciples ordinary day labourers, without a stable workplace, some of them wandering about, looking for meaning to their lives.
And so if I had to choose, which apostle would I want to be? The idea behind this question came from my friends at the homeless shelter.
Since Jesus’ role was occupied right off the bat, they began to debate their roles, just as the real apostles debated about their place in the Kingdom.
Everyone wanted to be Saint Peter, the Rock upon whom the Church would be built. Or at least John, the Beloved apostle, steadfastly embracing the cross on Golgotha. Or Nathanael, the one with the pure heart. Even the theatrical and doubting Saint Thomas wouldn’t be too bad because it all worked out in the end.
One Apostle no one wanted to be was Judas, the traitor and the one who committed suicide. Everyone avoided this role like the plague.
We had to lure them with sugar, dazzle them with promises until they finally gathered in the Aula Magna of the Philharmonic. With eye as round as saucers, they marveled at the red upholstery, the stage and the loges, probably stepping foot in a real performance hall for the very first time in their lives.
So I distributed the roles when nothing could be done. Gritting his teeth, the new Judas accepted that he was still someone. Because only someone brave, with courage, could assume the role of evil in this game of good boys. And the bad guys in movies usually succeed, don’t they?
The Bridegroom’s Sleeping Friends
So who are the Bridegroom’s Friends, these beloved of the Lord, in the biblical sense of beloved? They are honoured guests at a heavenly wedding but they don’t seem aware of the splendor before them. At some point, Christ called them “foolish’ and “slow to believe.” Just like us. I wholeheartedly relate.
The apostles are an inhomogeneous crowd, people gathered on the go, and not particularly the cream of the crop. Fishermen, day laborers, and among them a few brighter ones: a customs officer, an Israelite in whom there was no deceit, a priest’s son, a future student in medicine or a talented accountant, a great lover of surprises.
They are naive and unfaithful, hesitant and treacherous, fearful and enslaved by unlove, exalted and skeptical, cunning and quick to point the finger at one another. And on top of it all, they are sleepers without any empathy. Asleep in their own way.
The greatest difference between Christianity and other religions is clear – the Divine discreetly appears in the world. He comes helplessly, as a baby, and become fully human, like us. There’s a reason why he receives the nickname “Son of Man” in the Gospels.
You can’t fool Christ because he’s experienced it all, he knows what time it is, he feels the burn on his own skin. He experiences thirst, hunger and most of all, he feels fear. He is not an intangible guru, a system, a code of rules, he is a Man and nothing human is foreign to him.
These disciples, these future apostles and martyrs have God incarnate in flesh and blood by their side, but they’re not dazed by the privilege. On the contrary, they seem to be struck by a temporary blindness, by a very human indifference.
If they had been genuinely interested in this Son of Man, the one who diverted their trivial lives into great ones, they wouldn’t have fallen asleep on Mount Tabor or in the Garden of Gethsemane, like lumps on a log.
Luke, the Gospel writer, guilty of slumbering, tries out a justification. He says that the Lord, after fervently asking them to keep watch with him on the night before his passion, finds them “asleep with sorrow.” As it turns out, they are utterly insensitive, but still a little distraught, as they snore away under the olive trees.
Teacher and Judge
All that is required of the disciples – future pillars of the Church (like all of us, on the occasion of every great feast that is overabundant in food), is to remember, to make an act of awakening, of minimal living and conscious presence.
We are the guests of honor at a mystical feast, on a big stage. Yes, we are borrowed actors, but we each have precise roles. We are required to do two things: pay attention and participate.
Our response. Most of the time it consists of an absent presence, a short nap: “sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.”
And now comes the part we don’t like at all, we skip it because it conflicts with the Savior’s reputation as the Good Shepherd. It’s this good Man’s candid invitation to participate and keep watch, a man who sacrifices everything for the sake of his friends, even his own life. It’s an invitation to be accountable. Steinhardt puts it clearly:
“Christ is a person (…) That’s why the following could be written in the Gospels: He was given to be a judge because he is the Son of Man, because he was a man, because he knows what it’s all about, because he can judge in full knowledge of the cause of earthly things, because he is alive, in heaven, bearing his stigmata, he is not lost in Nirvana. ”
Let us not forget, therefore, the words of the Book: “Blessed are they whom the Lord will find keeping watch when He returns.”