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Last Updated: Friday, 26 March, 2004, 08:34 GMT
Passion ignites world audiences
The Passion of the Christ, US cinema
Some US church groups have block-booked cinema seats
The Passion of the Christ, which has aroused controversy around the world, opens in UK cinemas on Friday.

Mel Gibson's depiction of the final hours of Jesus' life is among the most talked about movies of recent years.

It has taken more than $250m (140m) at the US box office, and has done brisk business on its opening runs in largely Catholic Latin America and Ireland.

Audiences in Germany, Poland, Australia and New Zealand are also flocking to it, despite a fierce backlash from some Jewish leaders who say it is anti-Semitic in its portrayal of Jesus' death.

Box office Passion
North America $264.5m (147.3m)
Australia $7.8m (4.3m)
Central and South America $10.2m (5.6m)
Poland $3.8m (2.1m)
Germany $2.3m (1.2m)
Source: Screen International as of 23 March

The movie, which Gibson has accepted is violent, could "fan anti-Semitism" according to Germany's Catholic and Protestant church leaders who joined the Jewish community in condemning it for an "overly negative portrayal" of Jews.

The Vatican has made no official comment although some prelates, speaking in a personal capacity, have said they did not find it anti-Semitic.

Gibson, a traditional Roman Catholic, denies anti-Semitism.

Actor Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus, had a private audience with the Pope in Rome last week. Caviezel, who is also devoutly Catholic, was blessed by the pontiff.

However, the UK's Ship of Fools magazine, a satirical Christian website, has accused churches of "double standards" in supporting the movie.

Mel Gibson
Director Gibson denies the film is anti-Jewish
It said many churches which were urging people to see the film traditionally opposed violence in the movies.

But The Passion has gone down particularly well in the US "Bible Belt" and among American church groups which have block-booked rows of seats.

On its opening weekend in Central and South America it took more than $10m (5.5m) - including more than $5m (2.8m) in Mexico and nearly $2m (1.1m) in Brazil.

When it was shown in some church parishes in Cuba ahead of its official release, many audiences were visibly shaken and some even cried.

Screened uncut

Qatar has become the first Middle Eastern state to publicly screen the film, which also opens in the United Arab Emirates on 31 March.

In Ireland it took more than $1m (550,000) in its first two weeks, while it has performed well in Germany ($2.3m/1.2m) and Poland ($3.8m/2.1m). Its totals in Australia and New Zealand have topped $8m (4.4m).

It is being screened uncut in Singapore where the conservative government has censored many high-profile films. The Passion will also be shown in 40 regions across Russia from 7 April.




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