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Christ epic ignites passions in Switzerland

The Passion of the Christ is considered gruesome by some Keystone

Filmgoers in German-speaking Switzerland are keenly awaiting Thursday’s premiere of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, about the death of Jesus.

This content was published on March 17, 2004 - 19:00

Representatives of both the Swiss Protestant and Catholic churches gave swissinfo their take on the film, which has sparked fierce debate in the United States.

Gibson’s abilities as an actor and director may be up for discussion, but his Catholic fundamentalism and business acumen are indisputable.

The Hollywood star decided to fund the $25 million (SFr32 million) project from his own pocket after it was rejected by production companies. Just three weeks after opening in cinemas across the US, “The Passion” has already brought in $246 million.

The two-hour long cinematic rendering of the 12 hours leading up to Christ’s death on the cross has triggered a fierce backlash from civil rights groups, the Jewish World Congress and the Anti-defamation league.

These have all accused Gibson of anti-Semitism by laying the blame for Christ’s crucifixion squarely at the feet of the Jewish people.

In Switzerland, the Jewish weekly magazine, “Tachles”, said the film had “triggered its own [burgeoning] momentum… which is being unleashed on the masses”.

The film showed how a myth was created, exploited and abused until “there is nothing left but hatred of Jews”, the publication said.

The Swiss Christian-Jewish Working Group is planning to create a discussion forum to debate the “highly problematic” film.

Tainted

But despite strong outbursts in the US and from Tachles, the film is not expected to arouse the same passions in Switzerland, according to spokespeople from both the Swiss Protestant and Catholic Churches.

“Just as with other controversial films, the European public [is likely] to be far more relaxed than audiences in the US,” said Christine Stark, a media expert with the Swiss Protestant Church.

“The film is deeply Catholic,” said Charles Martig, a spokesman for the Catholic Church.

But Martig added that the film’s theological slant had clearly been tainted by Gibson’s own membership of a Catholic sect, which disregards the Second Vatican Council of 1965.

The Vatican ruled at the time that the Jews were responsible for arresting Jesus Christ, and the Romans for crucifying him.

Gruesome

For Stark, the film’s most striking aspect is its gruesome depiction of Christ’s suffering.

“By the end, there’s not one centimetre left on Christ’s body that isn’t covered with wounds,” Stark said, adding that she sometimes had to look away.

The film scarcely deals with Christ’s resurrection, which takes up just the final minute.

For both Martig and Stark, the film is devoid of educational value. The problem lies in the film’s “lack of critical thought about Jesus Christ’s story”, said Martig.

Gibson allowed himself to be guided by theological beliefs rather than by the Bible, he added.

“The Passion” has won the approval of the Vatican. On Monday, Pope John Paul II met Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus in the film, for a private audience and blessed the devoutly Catholic actor.

swissinfo

In brief

Mel Gibson funded the film himself, to the tune of $25 million (SFr32 million).

In the first three weeks, the film grossed $246 million at the US box office.

It has provoked strong criticism from civil rights groups, the Anti-defamation league and the Jewish World Congress, which says the film is anti-Semitic.

The Swiss Christian-Jewish Working Group is planning to create a discussion forum to debate the film.

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