Issue 43 (2014)

Andrei Bogatyrev: Judas (Iuda, 2013)

reviewed by Frederick H. White © 2014

judasJudas (Aleksei Shevchenkov), an experienced thief, is in the market place when he sees Jesus (Andrei Barilo) and his disciples for the first time. Following them back to their camp, Judas waits until they are asleep in order to steal their money. Caught in the act, Judas is certain to be beaten for his crime. Instead, one of the disciples, returning from Jesus, says that they are to release Judas and give him the money. Such a reaction is unexpected and the career thief soon joins Jesus and his followers. Although Judas is initially unsure of Jesus’ teachings, he gradually comes to his own understanding of how the messiah’s message and the real world interrelate. More troubling, Judas thinks that the apostles are following Jesus blindly and he constantly challenges them to see if they have grasped the divine truth. Unfortunately for Judas, his queries are often understood to be misinterpretations of Jesus’ word and his best talents in procuring food, managing the finances and even distracting an angry mob are not appreciated by the others. Eventually, Judas believes that he is the only true disciple and that the lone way to spread Jesus’ divine message is to betray the prophet to the Sanhedrin. If Jesus is brought before the authorities, the people are bound to revolt against such injustice, are they not? After Jesus is crucified, the question remains, was it Judas who actually betrayed Jesus or was it the people of Jerusalem, those who did not rise up to defend Him, who were guilty?

Andrei Bogatyrev’s Judas is based on Leonid Andreev’s Judas Iskariot and Others (Iuda Iskariot i drugie), which was first published in a Knowledge (Znanie) almanac in 1907. According to a recent interview, Bogatyrev first read Andreev’s story while a student at the Russian State University of Cinematography (VGIK), in a seminar on Russian literature. At the time it seemed that Andreev offered a work that was very progressive and open to modern interpretations. Once Bogatyrev began to realize his vision for a cinematic adaptation of Andreev’s story, two films further informed his cinematic project—Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ (1988)and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) (Nikonova 2013).

judasIn Andreev’s story, the others are Jesus’ disciples caught in their least flattering moments, many characteristics taken directly from the Bible itself. Peter is vulgar, Thomas is a skeptic, Judas is a traitor and none of them seems worthy of the prophet who is before them. Andreev offers several different possible motivations for Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. One of the more convincing arguments is that Judas betrayed Jesus with the belief that this would incite a rebellion. When this does not happen, Judas is driven to suicide, still convinced that he is the only one who did not forsake Jesus.

judasThis excellent adaptation by scriptwriter Vsevolod Benigsen and director Bogatyrev selects this instrument of God motivation, while not completely ignoring Andreev’s other thematic potentialities, as its organizing principle. In this cinematic version, Judas confesses to a prostitute: “I betrayed him for his own benefit, for his own sake.” As one Russian film critic has stated: “Christ became Christ thanks to the betrayal of Judas from Kariot” (Lavrent’ev 2013). Such an interpretation is supported with a brief scene in which Jesus encourages Judas to fulfill his destiny, telling him not to be afraid and holding him close (the first bit of warmth that he has demonstrated towards Judas in the film), just before Judas is to bring the authorities to arrest the messiah. These scenes (and others) solidify the notion that someone had to betray Jesus in order to advance the potential for religious mythologizing. Benigsen and Bogatyrev draw on many key moments from Andreev’s story, but actually provide a much more consistent (and coherent) thematic explanation for Judas’ actions in this adaptation.

judasThe ultimate success of the film, however, lies in Shevchenkov’s performance in the lead role. Almost to the detriment of the other actors, Shevchenkov delivers a complex portrayal of Judas, with well-executed moments of rage, disappointment, love and hatred. In Andreev’s text, Judas suffers from paralysis that has gruesomely contorted half of his face, but Shevchenkov is able to convey this duplicitous nature without the aid of cosmetics. He is at one and the same time the disciple who doubts Jesus the most, and understands his message the best. Or does he? This conflicted sensibility is the essence of Shevchenkov’s interpretation.Shot in Malta, Judas attempts to recreate the visual textures of its biblical subject. With a sparse soundtrack—both the visual and aural work well together in this regard—the naturalistic feel of the film depends on the particular intensity of Judas. As a consequence of this truly outstanding performance, Shevchenkov was recognized at the Thirty-Fifth Moscow International Film Festival, where he was awarded the prize for best male-lead role. He was recognized also at the XI Moscow festival of Russian cinema “Moscow Premiere” (2013) and at the X International Television Film Forum “Together” (2013) in Yalta as the best male-lead of those two festivals.

On a budget of 41 million rubles (around 1 million Euro), the film was made with partial financial support from the Ministry of Culture for the Russian Federation. Judas is presently being shown at film festivals in Russia and abroad. According to the film’s producer, Tat’iana Voronetskaia, the film is also being considered for the “NIKA” (Russia’s top film award). 

Frederick H. White
Utah Valley University

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Works Cited

Ol’ga Nikonova (2013), “Andrei Bogatyrev: ‘Ia poliubil Iudu’,” Kultura 22 June.

Sergei Lavrent’ev (2013), “Retsenziia na fil’m Andreia Bogatyreva ‘Iuda’ (2013).” Drugoe kino 26 June.


Judas, Russia, 2013
Color, 107 minutes
Studios: Rossfilm and ABS
Director: Andrei Bogatyrev
Screenwriter: Vsevolod Benigsen, based on the work of Leonid Andreev
DoP: Dmitrii Mal’tsev
Art Director: Aleksandr Telin
Composers: Sergei Solov’ev and Dmitrii Kurliandskii
Costume Designer: Natal’ia Dziubenko
Producers: Tat’iana Voronetskaia and Elena Belova
Executive Producer: Mariia El’
Actors: Aleksei Shevchenkov, Sergei Frolov, Andrei Barilo, Ivan Dobronravov, Ol’ga Stashkevich, Aleksei Bochenin, Konstantin Samoukov, Vadim Iakovlev, Ol’ga Aksenova, Maksim Dugishov, Andrei Kopytov, Andrei Bogatyrev and Sergei Fetisov

Andrei Bogatyrev: Judas (Iuda, 2013)

reviewed by Frederick H. White © 2014

Updated: 05 Jan 14