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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 April, 2004, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Gibson's Passion opens in Italy
Frances Kennedy
BBC reporter in Italy

Mel Gibson's film The Passion of Christ, which is already the biggest grossing independent film in the United States, has opened in Italy.

Unlike in other countries the film is on general release, with no age restrictions.

Sassi, Italy
Sassi in southern Italy where some of the film was filmed
The Passion has been criticised by Jewish groups as fuelling anti-Semitism and there was initial concern in the Vatican that it might damage ties between the Catholic Church and the Jewish faith.

In Italy, the controversy and the publicity generated abroad has created unprecedented advance bookings for the film.

Reactions to the film in Italy have been as divided as elsewhere. Some people were deeply moved by the celluloid version of the last hours of Christ, others repulsed by the almost sadistic violence with which Mel Gibson dwells on the agony of Jesus.


Unlike in other countries, The Passion is on general release in Italy, meaning no age restrictions.

There were few youngsters among the crowds at cinemas in Rome, though an MP of the right wing Northern League has called for the film to be shown in high schools, to fill what he called, a void in religious awareness.

Franco Zefirelli, a devout Catholic, who made the film Jesus of Nazareth, said The Passion showed Gibson was a religious fanatic, and the film also got a thumbs down from a prominent director, Ettore Scola.

Many priests and nuns were among those queueing for the first day screenings. Inside the Vatican many senior figures have already viewed the film, though few have made their opinions public.


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