Church groups flock to see Gibson's Passion
MEL Gibson’s controversial film The Passion of the Christ, covering the final hours of Jesus’s life, opened in Britain this weekend to packed cinemas.
Despite containing scenes of extreme violence, in particular the flagellation of Christ by Roman soldiers, and the fact that all dialogue is in Aramaic and "street" Latin, church groups have been flocking to their local multiplexes to see the film.
However, British Jewish groups have condemned the film, accusing Gibson, who directed, produced and financed it, of anti-Semitism in his depiction of Jews as being to blame for Christ’s death.
The Hollywood actor, who is a devout Catholic, has also been forced to defend his family after his father was accused of making anti-Semitic remarks.
Gerald Kaufman MP, chairman of the Commons Culture Media and Sport committee, joined those opposing the film, calling it "damagingly anti-Semitic".
"The Jews depicted are depicted as almost caricature Jews who demand [Christ’s] blood," he said.
But British religious groups have been imitating their American counterparts’ tactics in attempting to persuade members of the public to see the movie.
St Luke’s Church in Maidstone, Kent, booked up to 3,000 tickets for the opening three days and nights. The tickets, worth 6.50 each, were then given away on the internet.
A spokesman for St Luke’s admitted it was using the film as an opportunity to introduce members of the public to Jesus, because it was "impossible" to get them to attend church.
The Catholic Church has also been recommending that its members see the film. There are reports of whole congregations making block bookings to see the film, despite it having an 18 certificate.
Even with the publicity and apparent popularity of the film - costing 14 million to make, it has already taken 147 million in the US alone since its release on Ash Wednesday - The Passion is only showing in 24 of Scotland’s 70 cinemas.
But while most cinemas have only booked it for two weeks, if the turnout mirrors the US, The Passion will still be on after Easter.
The movie has had a global effect, in some cases even before it has been screened. In France, three Jewish brothers have asked a Paris court to ban it, saying it risks stirring up anti-Semitic feelings.
Patrick, Gerard and Jean-Marc Benlolo presented their case last Friday to a judge in Paris, then went together to a screening of the film with a lawyer for the movie’s French distributor. They claim the film has a "false and erroneous vision of certain religious events" and will stir anti-Jewish hatred.
France has been battling anti-Semitic violence for more than two years, often involving attacks against Jewish schools, synagogues and community centres.
A verdict was expected today, ahead of the film’s scheduled opening in the country on Wednesday.
In Bethlehem, there have been secret showings of the film, which is unlikely to be given a general release.
In Peru, The Passion made a controversial debut, but not because viewers found it violent or anti-Semitic.
Instead, it was the appearance of thousands of pirated DVD copies on sale on the streets for less than 1 nearly a month before the film’s cinema opening that caused the uproar, leading distributors to rush the movie into theatres.
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