The Ways Of Man **
Starring: Marc Garcia Coté, Oriol Pla, Jan Cornet
Director: Gemma Ferraté
According to the Bible, after Judas betrayed Jesus, he "took himself to a quiet place and hung himself". He was so riddled with guilt that he could not live with himself - but why did he betray Jesus in the first place? In The Ways Of Man, a Spanish film from Gemma Ferraté, we follow a modern Judas to that quiet place in the forest as he tries to come to terms with what he has done.
Opening with the kiss with which Judas (Coté) betrays Jesus (a brief cameo from Jan Cornet), he is given thirty pieces of silver. Wracked with guilt, he walks into the forest to be alone, but he soon encounters Iu (Pla), who begins to follow him. Judas does what he can to shake off his tail, but Iu will not leave him be and before long, his presence forces Judas to come face to face with the feelings that led him to betray his best friend.
Though not explicitly LGBT in its content, there is a definite implication in The Ways Of Man that Judas is gay. He refuses to let Iu anywhere near him because of the attraction he feels towards him and fighting him off becomes almost animal, as he leaves him stuck up a tree or fights him with sharpened sticks. But he cannot leave Iu behind. With incredibly sparse dialogue, all of Judas' feelings are very much implied, but the longer we see his internal battle about Iu, the more it appears that he went through the same thing with Jesus. Did he betray him because of his own self-loathing? Or was there more to it than that?
Unfortunately, the pace of The Ways Of Man makes for tiring viewing. Even though it lasts little more than an hour, it does barely anything to excite or engage the viewer. Where wilderness films like The Revenant or Wild use survival skills to send their protagonists on journeys of catharsis, this just sees its lead brow-beating and trudging through the undergrowth doing little to express more than just a constant pained look of guilt. In trying to shroud Judas in ambiguity, the filmmaker has succeeded only in making us care nothing about him by not telling us anything more than we already knew. Everyone knows what Judas did... to make a full film out of it, we need just a little bit more!
It is unclear whether this journey itself is metaphorical, literal, figurative, spiritual or somehow metaphysical. There is narrative trickery afoot at times, but the long shots of one man following another through the forest are reminiscent of Gus Van Sant's forgettable bore-fest Gerry. With a subject as rich for exploration as this, we could easily have been taken on a fascinating journey that really delves into the depths of what his guilt actually means, but instead it is just a singularly pitched note that shrilly screeches in the background while in the foreground nothing happens whatsoever.
The Ways Of Man isn't really going to please anyone. The idea of a modern character piece about Judas Iscariot is definitely an engaging hook, but people wanting to see it from a religious or historical viewpoint will be sorely disappointed. Anyone wanting to see a survival film will be similarly let down, because despite their occasional complaints of "I'm hungry", both Judas and Iu basically manage to just survive in the forest somehow too. Anyone wanting to see an exploration of guilt will find just a surface painting of it instead. It's difficult to see what anyone could want that this film could fulfil... I guess if you like trees a LOT you *might* like it? But maybe not even then.
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