Thursday, March 25, 2004

More Passion, more!

BBC1's Breakfast News this morning had a feature on The Passion of the Christ presented by Tom Brook, the American film correspondent. And apparently the signs are that it's tough to get tickets for evening showings. (Tip for academics: use your next "research day" to get to an early bird showing -- they're cheaper too. Or take a group of students with you and then it's a "field trip".).

This article in The Independent reports on one strong reaction in France:

'Passion' is fascist propaganda: French film boss
By John Lichfield in Paris
Marin Karmitz, president of the MK2 group, said that he would not show the movie - a runaway box-office success in the United States - in any of his 10 cinemas.

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, the newspaper of the American movie industry, M. Karmitz said: "I have always fought against fascism, notably through [the films I show]. For me, Passion is a film of fascist propaganda."
As often with the film's most vociferous critics, it is the violence that Karmitz objects to:
He accused the Australian-born director of not only presenting a distorted and anti-Semitic view of the New Testament story but also "turning violence and barbarity into a spectacle".

"For two hours, you see a man being tortured, nothing else," said M. Karmitz.

Although he is Jewish, he criticised Jewish lobbies in the US for focusing on the alleged anti-Semitic elements in the movie and not its "culture of violence". "Behind this Passion ... you can glimpse a whole internationale of religious fundamentalism, a martyrology based on violence, contempt for the body and hatred for [humanity]," he said.
The idea that you only see Jesus being tortured for two hours and "nothing else" is pretty inaccurate. In my own view, the violence in this film is often graphic but it is never gratuitous. As with other similar critics, I find the notion that the film condones "hatred" an extraordinary one given the film's obvious stress on the themes of love of enemies, prayer for persecutors and forgiveness under the most appalling circumstances. Given the film's relentless pressing of those themes, I am surprised that it has not been criticized for trying to hammer the point home too strongly. How often does one see it mentioned in the reviews?

The article reveals an interesting link too with Jesus of Nazareth:
The film is due to be released in 600 cinemas across France on 31 March by Quinta Distribution, a company owned by the Franco-Tunisian film producer Tarak Ben Ammar.

M. Ben Ammar, who produced Franco Zeffirelli's equally controversial Jesus of Nazareth in 1977 and Roberto Rossellini's The Messiah in 1975, has said the film is not racist or anti-Semitic . . . .

. . . . . M. Ben Ammar said: "I thought it was my duty as a Muslim who believes in Jesus, and because I was brought up to respect all three monotheist religions, to show this movie to the people of France and let them judge for themselves."
Jesus of Nazareth "equally controversial"? That's a serious overstatement.

On the links between Jesus films, Paul Schrader, script writer for The Last Temptation of Christ, has recently commented on The Passion. He didn't like it. This from Tuesday's Guardian:

Last Temptation writer: Mel's Passion is medieval
Xan Brooks
"Last Temptation was a very humanistic film in that it sees Christ's struggle as a human struggle," Schrader told the Guardian. "Gibson's film is very different. My guess is that Mel has a problem with the Enlightenment because his film really does go back to the visceral blood cult origins of Christianity, and the fervour it's created is more akin to a Gospel tent meeting than it is to a motion picture."

On the question of whether the film is anti-semitic, Schrader points out that the problem may be largely to do with the Gospels themselves. "The Gospels were rigged for political reasons from the get-go. They were written 30-40 years after the fact to curry favour with the Romans and separate the Christians from the Jews. So the Pharisees were made to seem much worse than they were and Pilate was shown to be more agonised." . . . . .

. . . . . As it happened, Schrader was working in an adjacent studio in Rome when Gibson was shooting The Passion of the Christ, and would often drop by to visit.

"It was at the time he was taking a lot of flak, and I mentioned what had happened with us and Last Temptation. I told him that it comes with the territory: you make a film about this subject matter, people are going to take it very personally. But he didn't follow up on that because I'm sure he was one of those people who subscribed to the Vatican's view of Last Temptation."

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