Already authors of noted documentaries on Christianity (notably Corpus Christi), Gérard Mordillat and Jérôme Prieur this time tackle a transversal but fascinating theme: the place of Jesus, central figure of Christianity, in Islam, and more specifically the Koranic text. If their previous documentaries had already been debated, we can be sure that this series on Jesus and islam will probably be controversial.
A historians' approach: starting from the text
The initial idea seems both simple and extremely ambitious: to start from two verses of sura IV of the Koran to unwind the thread and thus explain the place of Jesus, not only in the Koranic text, but more broadly in the Muslim religion. . Each term is analyzed and contextualized by around thirty international specialists (some of them from Muslim cultures), not always in agreement, including on the very translation of Arabic terms. This adds to the richness of the documentary, which does not claim to be exhaustive, but rather to ask questions "which help to think", and all the same to try to provide some answers.
It is thanks to this complexity a fascinating documentary on the very profession of historian, very far from what we usually see on television, where history is reduced to an often idealized narrative. Here, we make history, we are really in the process of the historian, as it is done in libraries and in front of sources.
A sober and clear style
Mordillat and Prieur also keep their usual style: black background, and interviews with historians, without the questions asked by the directors. And, above all, a great presence of sources, filmed close-up, or always present near historians, who read them directly in front of the viewer.
This sobriety could make one think that the episodes are monotonous, and yet it is not, on the contrary. We are witnessing a "live" investigation, always wanting to know more. When the first episode ends, we are frustrated, we want to know the rest!
A broadcast in 7 episodes
Far from being confined to the critical examination of these two verses, the documentary series is made up of seven episodes, broadcast on Arte for three days. It may seem a bit much, but we can jump on the DVD, already released.
The themes are all interesting, but we recommend that you linger over a few episodes: "The People of the Book", "The Prophet's Exile", "The Book of Islam", which will be used in particular by teachers. On the other hand, it is difficult to project the documentary to college students. Even though it is extremely clear, it remains too "dry" and complex for 12 year olds.
An essential series, a necessary debate
The press screening of the first episode showed that the series was not likely to leave you indifferent, even more than the duo's previous documentaries. Obviously, the national and international context makes things complicated, the positions sometimes caricatured, provokes skin reactions. Put simply, a peaceful debate on Islam is difficult today. You should also know that research on the Koranic text has experienced a real revival in recent years, especially in Germany, but that it remains subject to debate, sometimes violent, including among historians, much more than other subjects. And particularly in France ...
It is for this, and many other things, that we very strongly recommend the series “Jesus and Islam”, which should be the yardstick for historical documentaries, especially on public service, which tends to finance other productions that want to be “historical”, but which are far from it, even if they have pretty images and claim to make people dream. With “Jesus and Islam”, we reflect, we learn, we enrich ourselves intellectually, and we strengthen our critical arsenal in a context that requires it to be extremely well supplied ...
Jesus and Islam, documentary series by Gérard Mordillat and Jérôme Prieur. Aired on Arte on December 8, 2015 at 8:55 p.m. (three episodes), December 9, 2015 at 10:35 p.m. (two episodes), and December 10, 2015 at 10:25 p.m. (two episodes). Available on DVD since December 2.
To read also: G. Mordillat, J. Prieur, Jesus according to Mahomet, Arte éditions / Seuil.