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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 15:17 GMT
Swastika film poster escapes ban
Constantin Costa-Gavras attends the opening hearing in Paris on 19 February
Constantin Costa-Gavras's film is about a wartime pope
A French court has refused to ban a controversial film poster which merges a crucifix with a Nazi swastika.

On Thursday, Paris judge Jean-Claude Magendie ruled there was no legal objection to the poster that would warrant limiting freedom of expression.

The poster was designed by Oliviero Toscani, the Italian photographer behind the controversial Benetton adverts, and promotes the film Amen, which examines the Vatican's silence during the Holocaust.

Ultra-Catholics cannot claim the cross of Christ as theirs alone

Constantin Costa-Gravas, film director
On Tuesday the Roman Catholic group, General Alliance Against Racism and for Respect of French and Christian Identity (Agrif), asked for a court order to ban the poster.

It depicts a cross twisted into a swastika in red and black, the colours worn by bishops.

The group said the poster offended religious sensitivities by associating "the symbol of absolute hatred and the symbol of absolute love".

But the film's director, Constantin Costa-Gravas, told the court on Tuesday: "Ultra-Catholics cannot claim the cross of Christ as theirs alone."

Bordeaux archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard
Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard has criticised the poster
Whilst acknowledging that he could understand why the poster had caused uproar, he added that he hoped the real debate would be over the film.

The film was shown at the Berlin film festival and opens in French cinemas on 27 February.

It tells the story of real-life SS officer Kurt Gerstein, who tries to tell the world, and the Vatican in particular, about the Holocaust while simultaneously supplying poison gas to the Nazi camps.

The public silence of the Vatican during the widespread atrocities of World War II is arguably the most controversial issue in the Catholic Church's wartime history.


Wartime pope, Pius XII, has been accused in the past of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust, although the Vatican has defended him, arguing that he worked behind the scenes to save Jews.

Poster of Amen in France
The film's director, Constantin Costa-Gravas, has defended the poster
The poster has also offended France's Roman Catholic bishops, but they have not publicly asked for it to be withdrawn.

Ten of France's most prominent Jews also voiced their discontent, including Chief Rabbi Rene-Samuel Sirat, although they have disassociated themselves from Agrif and the court action.

"We consider this amalgam of the Nazi emblem with a religious symbol to be unhealthy," the Jewish leaders said in a statement, which appeared in the weekly Christian magazine La Vie on Thursday.

The BBC's Mark Duff
"Pius XII has long been accused of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust"
See also:

20 Feb 02 | Film
Catholics urge film poster ban
25 Jan 02 | Film
Religious groups praise Rings
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'Eyes' sparks blasphemy row
03 Jun 00 | South Asia
Sri Lanka withdraws controversial film
27 Jan 99 | Entertainment
Malaysia bans Spielberg's Prince
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