Preview by: Jack Foley
MEL Gibson certainly appears to be having plenty of crosses to
bear in bringing his labour of love, The Passion of the Christ,
to the Big Screen.
For, having announced that the movie - which chronicles the last
12 hours of Christ's life - would only have dialogue in Latin
and Aramaic (with no English subtitles), the director already
had a battle on his hands to persuade a US distributor to release
Now, however, he has found himself in a row with those who have
already accused the movie of being both anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic.
The film stars Jim Caviezel and Monica Bellucci, among others,
and has already been attacked by the US Conference of Catholic
Bishops, and the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, which accused
The Passion of painting both Catholics and Jews in an unflattering
Gibson has been quick to dismiss such allegations, however, telling
Daily Variety in a statement that, 'to be certain, neither I nor
my film is anti-Semitic'.
Both groups remain worried, however, about the film's content
after Gibson's extremely religious father (he adheres to a radical
form of Catholicism disavowed by the Vatican) was interviewed
by the New York Times Magazine in March, during which he
made some rash statements about religion and suggested that the
Holocaust may never have taken place.
Both groups subsequently obtained an early edition script from
The Passion and became further angered about its portrayal of
Jews and Catholics.
Gibson, however, maintains that the script was stolen, and the
Catholic group has since recanted, apologizing for slamming an
unfinished film and promising to return all the unauthorized copies
of the script.
Mark Chopko, general counsel for the Conference of Catholic Bishops,
said in a statement: "We regret that this situation has occurred
and offer our apologies."
Icon, Gibson's production company, is also in talks with the
Jewish group for a similar apology.
In spite of this, however, the director, who has already won
an Oscar for Braveheart, has further defended the production,
pointing out that is taken from the four gospels of the New Testament,
as well as his morals.
"The Passion is a movie meant to inspire, not offend,"
he maintains in the Variety statement.
"My intention in bringing it to the screen is to create
a lasting work of art and engender serious thought among audiences
of diverse faith backgrounds (or none) who have varying familiarity
with this story."
Producer, Steve McEveety, went one stage further, saying that
'no one has a right to publicly critique a film that has not even
been completed, let alone base their critique on an outdated version
of the script which has been illegally obtained'.
To put the record straight, Gibson has further laid down his
opinions on Jews, discrimination and his decision to shoot the
film in a dead language.
Regarding the issue of Jews, he said: "They are my friends
and associates, both in my work and social life. Thankfully, treasured
friendships forged over decades are not easily shaken by nasty
innuendo. Anti-Semitism is not only contrary to my personal beliefs,
it is also contrary to the core message of my movie."
On discrimination, he adds: "If the intense scrutiny during
my 25 years in public life revealed I had ever persecuted or discriminated
against anyone based on race or creed, I would be all too willing
to make amends. But there is no such record."
And on the language: "Obviously, no one wants to touch something
filmed in two dead languages. Hopefully I'll be able to transcend
language barriers with visual storytelling."
On The Passion: "For those concerned about the content of
this film...[it] is a movie about faith, hope, love and forgiveness-something
sorely needed in these turbulent times."
Shooting on the $25-million movie wrapped in April and The Passion
is set for a spring 2004 release. It already looks set to become
one of next year's biggest talking points.