Passion of Christ to hit theatres by mid-March

Hani M. Bathish And Prerna Suri
Filed on March 3, 2004

DUBAI- Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ on the last hours of the life of Jesus Christ, is due to hit theatres in Dubai by mid-March.

Prime Pictures, the sole distributors of the movie, have forwarded the prints of the film to the Ministry of Information and Culture in Abu Dhabi and are awaiting a response.

Hammad Atassi, Managing Director of Prime Pictures, said: "The film is being released in Lebanon on March 18 and should hopefully come to Dubai between March 17 and 24.

"The prints of the film have been forwarded to the Ministry for passing the censorship board and once it gets the required approval, it would be released here. All we need to work on are the subtitles of the movie and other technical aspects for which it will take at least two weeks, and hence the release in mid-March."

The film is reputed to be a cinematic masterpiece, filmed with elegant lighting to echo the renaissance paintings of allegorical and religious subjects. While the characters speak Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin, the film does have English subtitles. In the United States the film has created a great deal of negative reactions from many quarters.

Renowned Muslim scholar, Dr Ahmad Al Qubaisi, who saw the film Monday evening during a private screening, told Khaleej Times that the movie was "awful and depressing", two and a half hours of the worst torture imaginable poured on one man.

"As Muslims, we do not hold with the belief that Jesus Christ died on the cross. In the film Jesus suffers enough torture to die one hundred times over. When in the film he is shown to have died on the cross, the last words uttered by Jesus place the blame for his death on the Jews. Is it possible for God to torture and kill his own beloved prophet, when he saved Moses and Noah and the other prophets?" Dr Al Qubaisi wondered.

He said the film troubled him deeply and made him cry twice as he watched it. "The horror is that the people who witnessed the crucifixion in the film were happy with this torture, the Jewish religious leaders in the film were shown to be especially cruel and heartless. "I cried twice during the film even though I know it was not true, so how would a Christian, who believes in what was shown in the film, feel while watching it. I believe this film is evidence that the American people have grown to despise and hate the control that the Jews exert over their lives and over their political leaders. This film comes after the Pope officially absolved the Jews of the blood of Jesus Christ," Dr Al Qubaisi said.

He said he believes that the Western world are beginning to realise that the Jews are really aiming to destroy world peace and a strong anti-Jewish feeling is welling up in the West that could culminate in the Jewish people subjected to another wave of mass killings similar to what they suffered under Hitler.

"God said that the people of Israel will reach great heights before their fall. How can such a film be shown in America at a time when the Jews control America? The same thing happened in Germany, when Hitler started the holocaust the Jews had reached a pinnacle of power in Germany. This film is a turning point in the history of the Jews we will see unmatched hatred for the Jews culminating in their traditional end.

The film has an R-rating in cinemas in the United States due to the violence depicted on screen. Mel Gibson, the man behind the film, in an interview on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno on the American NBC network, stressed that there are more violent films than The Passion of the Christ, and wondered why his film was being singled out for so much criticism.

He said that the movie is supposed to engender forgiveness and tolerance and not the negative reactions it has, adding that some people made comments about the film without even seeing it.

Commenting on rating of the film, Mr Atassi said that Christian religious leaders in Lebanon disagreed with the American decision of stamping an R rating on the movie, as children were already being exposed to other forms of violence in the mainstream media.

"Since children were already being exposed to a lot of violence in other movies, religious leaders in Lebanon felt that the movie should be shown with a PG-12 rating. The one condition of the movie producers was that the film should be shown in its entirety with no cuts. Garnering a higher rating is agreeable but censoring the movie and then screening it, is not," emphasised Mr Atassi.

The film is about the suffering of Jesus Christ in the last 12 hours of his life leading up to his crucifixion. Among the film's first scenes is Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. The violence in the film is only a vehicle used by the filmmaker to reflect the violence of the times, which few modern audiences appreciate.

Dr. John Dishman, a Fulbright Scholar and Dubai-based artist, is an ardent filmmaker himself and has taught many university level courses of film appreciation, film as literature and script writing. He believes that the controversy surrounding the film is a "load of hype" that will serve in the long run to make the film more appealing and more popular than it otherwise would have been. The bottom line is the "hype" will sell tickets at the box office.

"Take the case of Lord of the Rings, if it wasn't for all the publicity before its release the kids would not have gone to the movies to watch it. When you have so much publicity and coverage before the launch of a film, like the case was with the Matrix Reloaded or Titanic, you generate enormous interest among people," Dr Dishman said.

He said that the creative spirit is actually mandated to challenge people, make them think and make them more aware. In-spite of the sensitivity of the religious subject matter, which invariably will spark controversy, the negative comments have made people talk about the movie and the issue.

"I'd rather have people talk than do nothing. The other day they were talking on the radio about the murder of a 14-year-old girl and many pointed to the sensitivity of the subject, but talking about these sensitive issues encourages people to think, it gives strength to conversations that lead to discussions that will open up new avenues of awareness and learning," Dr Dishman said.

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