He Who Must Die (1957)

He Who Must Die (1957)

“Everyone on Earth is in charge of his neighbor.”

Just after World War I, residents in a Turkish-occupied Greek village plan a Passion Play, with a stuttering shepherd (Pierre Vaneck) starring as Christ (Pierre Vaneck) and a widow (Melina Mercouri) playing Mary Magdalene, among others — but when the leader (Jean Servais) of a group of starving refugees seek entry into the village, they are denied in a decidedly un-Christian manner by the town’s head priest (Fernand Ledoux) and its Turkish governor (Gregoire Aslan).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Christianity
  • French Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Jules Dassin Films
  • Refugees

While attending the Cannes Film Festival in honor of his celebrated heist film Rififi (1955), director Jules Dassin met his future wife Melina Mercouri:

… and cast her in this powerful adaptation of a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, about the hypocrisy of town leaders in the face of a humanitarian crisis.

The situation at the center of the storyline couldn’t be more relevant 100+ years later, as our global populace continues to face unprecedented waves of refugees seeking shelter and safety; seeing how this particular town reacts is a sad indictment of our ever-present tendency to shun and fear outsiders.

Thankfully, there are almost always a few “good actors” in the midst of bureaucratic strongholds — in this case, a few of the leads from the Passion Play who support the efforts of Servais’s Priest Fotis.

Especially creepy (effectively so) in a small supporting role is Aslan as the self-satisfied Turkish governor who is primarily interested in eating and feeding his young male “companion”.

Film fanatics will likely be curious to seek this film out, given both its sociological relevance and fine work by Dassin and his crew.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s definitely worth a look.


One thought on “He Who Must Die (1957)

  1. First viewing (7/28/21). Not must-see.

    Dassin’s rather academic film seems something of a human response to traditional American biblical epics of the period. The actors are more or less playing an idea, a bit at odds with the religious pedantry. So scenes overall tend to not be as satisfying as they might be. It’s a provocative premise – and it’s not exactly boring as it plays out (i.e., it’s potent re: religious hypocrisy) but it’s spotty in its effectiveness. Still, it’s an interesting experiment in human rights cinema.

    Acting honors go to Grégoire Aslan, breathing life into the story as Agha. Aslan also appeared memorably in Nicholas Ray’s ‘King of Kings’ as Herod.

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