A/V Room









The Passion of the Christ opens in the Middle East

Story by: Jack Foley

MEL Gibson's The Passion of the Christ has taken the Middle East box office by storm, breaking records in the United Arab Emirates.

In the three days since it opened in the Muslim country on Friday, April 2, 2004, some 66,321 tickets have been sold, overtaking previous record-holder, Matrix Reloaded.

However, the movie remains as controversial in that region as it has all over Europe and America.

While the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have agreed to let the film be screened in public, along with Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, neighbouring Bahrain has banned it on the grounds it is against Islam, while Israel views it as anti-Semitic.

Kuwait has yet to decide whether to give the film the green light amid concerns it could stoke religious tensions.

The emirate's Sunni Muslims are opposed to its release, although Shi'ite Muslims favour it.

With regards to the Israeli release, one national paper said that 'given the damage he's done to Christian-Jewish relations, I wouldn't want to be Mel Gibson on Judgement Day', while a spokesman for Shapira Films, the company which has the Israeli distribution rights, stated that it had 'decided this was not the appropriate time to screen it'.

The film continues to divide viewers across Europe, where it has opened in Germany and France, and where it is due to debut in Italy and Russia.

Charlotte Knobloch, vice-president of the Central Council of Jews, in Germany, commented that The Passion of the Christ's 'suggestive power ... will give a further push to the current resurgence of anti-Semitism'.

But the majority of Vatican officials have praised the film.

In France, however, where its release was greeted with widespread critical derision, Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, described the violence in the film as 'ridiculous'.

While Norwegian bishop, Gunnar Staalsett, commenting in a TV interview, described it as 'downright gruesome', and added: "It made me out and out nauseous."



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