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French circuit rejects 'Passion'

Mel Gibson


By Charles Masters

PARIS -- One of France's leading independent cinema groups, MK2, has refused to program Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which the company's president, Marin Karmitz, has branded "fascist propaganda."

"I refused to program the film in my network of theaters," Karmitz said in a written statement forwarded to The Hollywood Reporter. "I have always fought against fascism, notably through my exhibition activity. For me, 'Passion' is a film of fascist propaganda."

Karmitz's MK2, which also is involved in film distribution, runs one of Paris' leading art house circuits with 58 screens across 10 cinemas.

"Passion" is due to be released March 31 in France by Quinta Distribution, the new firm of Franco-Tunisian producer Tarak Ben Ammar. Ben Ammar did not return calls by press time, and his Paris office declined comment on Karmitz's view of the film.

Karmitz, also president of the French Federation of Distributors, said Gibson's movie turns "violence and barbarity into a spectacle. For two hours, you see a man being tortured, nothing else." He went on to say that the movie is revisionist in the way history is portrayed, with the sound of blows and cries displacing speech. "Lastly, given the representation of the Jews, anti-Semitism is the third element of this fascist ideology (in the film)," Karmitz said. "But in America, the Jewish lobbies made a mistake by basing the debate solely on this point."

Quinta said Monday that all other exhibitors in France have shown strong interest in the picture, which is likely to open with about 480 prints.

"Passion" drew widespread media comment in France when it bowed in the United States, but so far, this has not translated into concrete protests or outright condemnation from those who have seen the film. Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church here attended a special screening and are reported to have considered it "a challenge." Representatives of Jewish groups are due to screen the film this week at various private sessions organized by Quinta.

"When I saw the film, I was blown away because it shows what Christ really went through in his last moments," Ben Ammar said earlier this month when he announced his firm's acquisition of "The Passion." "It's a powerful film that is absolutely not anti-Semitic."

Ben Ammar picked up the film shortly after its record-breaking U.S. release when no other Gallic distributor signed up for it, fast-tracking the setup of his new distribution operation to handle the release.

Karmitz also accused Gibson's production/distribution entity Icon of being "promoters," making out that all French distributors had seen the movie and turned it down to propagate the idea of censorship on the part of a Jewish lobby. Karmitz said he was among several who hadn't seen the movie until Ben Ammar arranged a screening.

Despite his vehement opposition to the movie, Karmitz said he thought it was right for "Passion" to be released in France so the debate it provokes could be aired. "Because, behind this 'Passion' ... you can glimpse a whole internationale of religious fundamentalism, a martyrology based on violence, contempt for the body and hatred for the human element."

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