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French cardinal critical of genre of "Jesus films"

Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris has expressed serious misgivings about Mel Gibson's film The Passion, because he says the filmgoer is subject to the "director's interpretation of events".

The Cardinal's reasons surprised the reporters he spoke to in Rome, who expected that the convert from Judaism and son of a Holocaust victim might have a problem with the film because of its alleged anti-Semitism.

Arguing that Christ's passion is "not a spectacle to be watched", he pointed out that traditional Catholic devotions that focus on the Passion are very different from a film.

"The pious practice of the Stations of the Cross is different," he observed, "because the faithful follow the Stations on foot; they are not sitting in an armchair."

The Cardinal admitted that he was moved by Pasolini's film on the passion, and he is yet to see Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

Meanwhile Cardinal George Pell of Sydney - who has seen the film - has described it as a "contemporary masterpiece, artistically and technically" that "shows us how Jesus redeems us from our sins".

The Cardinal's short but exuberant review was posted on the Archdiocesan website on Friday.

"It is not absurd to compare it with the paintings of the Italian master Caravaggio, because of its beauty and drama," he said. "As a film it belongs to the twentieth century, the cruellest in history, because of its graphic violence and its technical mastery."

In its issue dated today, the US Jesuit review America publishes a critical review of films in the "Jesus" genre, by Fr Lloyd Baugh, who teaches film studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Fr Baugh finds fault with all the films from the early 20th century, through to works like The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), and Franco Zefirelli's Jesus of Nazareth (1977). He reserves most praise for films of Gibson and Pasolini.

Echoing the caution of Cardinal Lustiger, he describes Gibson's film as a "highly personal interpretation" but points out that the subjectivisim is "something to which [Gibson] admits quite candidly."

He suggests one of Gibson's best moves was to use Aramaic and Latin dialogue.

"Unique in the tradition of the Jesus-film, this audacious move on the director's part is wonderfully effective."

French cardinal has misgivings on The Passion (Catholic World News 20/2/04)
Cardinal George Pell: By His Wounds We Are Healed (Review of The Passion)
Palestinian Braveheart (America 23/2/04)

Bush keen to see Gibson's 'Passion' movie (ABC 21/2/04)
The Passion of Mel Gibson (Christianity Today 20/2/04)
Gibson says The Passion is not about blame for Crucifixion (CathNews 19/2/04)
The Passion of the Christ (official website)

23 Feb 2004