Just Above Sunset
March 7, 2004 - Will Mel Gibson Conquer France Too? (and a few other odd items)

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Jerry Lewis, not Mel Gibson


Let’s see here.  It seemed for a time that the French would not soon see Mel Gibson’s new movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”  They seem to think Mel’s a bit strange.  One of the French national newspapers, Libération, described Gibson's faith as "a Shi'ite version of Christianity ...  imbibed with blood and pain" which "reduces the message of Christ to his death by torture".  According to Libération the film legitimized anti-Semitism.  "The cult of the martyr is a dangerous combustible in which fanatics burn.  It can feed intolerances and religious wars."

See L'Evangile selon saint Mel Gibson
Malgré sa violence, le film de l'acteur intégriste bat des records aux Etats-Unis. 
Par Fabrice ROUSSELOT, vendredi 27 février 2004

Or Machine à convertir pour évangéliques
Le film est une aubaine pour ces protestants très prosélytes en vogue aux Etats-Unis. 
Par Pascal RICHE, vendredi 27 février 2004

And, so far, the director Luc Besson is the only significant figure in the French industry to express interest in getting the film screened. 

No wonder true, patriotic Americans hate the French.  Not only were we forced to rename those deep-fried, salted potato sticks, now it seems those folks hate sweet Jesus and the devout and humble Mel Gibson. 

Here’s the scoop. 

See French cinemas refuse to screen The Passion
By Kim Willsher in Paris, The Sunday Telegraph (UK), February 29, 2004
The basics:


French cinema chains are refusing to distribute or screen Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion of the Christ because of fears that it will spark a new outbreak of anti-Semitism. 

France is the only European country where there is still no distribution deal for the film, which depicts the last days of Jesus Christ in graphic detail and is accused by critics of stoking anti-Jewish sentiment. 

The film was released in America last week but French distributors are wary of its impact on audiences and want to gauge its reception elsewhere in Europe, where it is due to open next month. 

A veteran film industry figure said: "We don't want to be on the side of those who support such anti-Semitism.  When we distributed It's a Beautiful Life by Benigni we were worried about the risk of making a comedy about the Holocaust, but that was different.  There's enough anti-Semitic stuff circulating here already without us throwing oil on the fire."


In short, Gibson would call them moral cowards. 

The Telegraph does note that debate over the film is highly sensitive in France, where a spate of fire-bombings of synagogues and Jewish schools and attacks on rabbis over the past year has led Israel to denounce it as the most anti-Semitic country in Europe. 

And the Telegraph does note that there is a lot anger with Israel among France's large and growing Muslim population – might be that business with the big wall around the Palestinian folks - and this combined with the strength of Right-wing parties in some French districts has contributed to create “an atmosphere which has alarmed political and Jewish leaders.”

No doubt.  And yes, last year Paris police were forced to set up a dedicated unit to deal with anti-Semitic crimes. 

It’s hot. 


Now a string of major distributors have signalled they are not interested in the film.  "We could have asked to see it but we haven't," said Jean-Claude Borde, director of Pathe Distribution.  "The subject doesn't interest us.  Usually we acquire the rights to a film well in advance after reading the screenplay, but with Gibson it's not our cup of tea."

Other companies have either dismissed the film as "rubbish" or voiced anxiety over its content.  "I didn't even stay until the end of The Passion.  It's rubbish, nothing but a huge marketing operation. 

"There are already enough bad films in France," said one French distributor who saw an early screening in the US.  The industry is acutely aware of the capacity of film to stir popular passions after its experience of violent demonstrations and attacks on French cinemas following the release of Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ in 1988.


So they’ll watch Jerry Lewis but don’t want to see Gibson’s Jesus-splatter-film. 

Well, France is, nominally, a Catholic country but the real problem may not be there. 


A group of traditional Catholics has formed a pressure group to attempt to force a French distributor to take up the film.  Daniel Hamiche, a publisher and journalist, who has founded Pro-Passion, a supporters group, said: "France, the older son of the Church, is the only country in Europe where still today the film hasn't found a distributor.  At first I believed they wanted to see how the film would do at the box office.  Now, with the success of the film in America, I don't really understand why they are not snapping up - unless it's self-censorship."

… M Hamiche remains disgusted by what he regards as his countrymen's perfidious approach to The Passion. 

"I do understand that the distributors and the Jewish community might be worried about possible attacks, but I don't believe the film is anti-Semitic and I think they are being over sensitive."


After Hitler and the trains heading east to the ovens, well, they might be a bit sensitive, don’t you think? 

Then the oddest thing of all – against these Catholics who want the Gibson film distributed we find the Committee Representing Jewish Institutions in France.  And they seem to think a previous Pope did just fine. 


French Jews fear that if M Hamiche's campaign is successful, anti-Semitic beliefs will spread.  Patrick Klugman of the Committee Representing Jewish Institutions in France said: "The most important progress made against anti-Semitism in the 20th Century was achieved at Vatican II when the reference to the responsibility of the Jewish People in the catechisms was repealed. 

"It's a shame that this film challenges this decision


Yes, in 1965 the Second Vatican Council, during the papacy of Paul VI, the church decided that while some Jewish leaders and their followers had pressed for the death of Jesus, "still, what happened in his passion cannot be charged against all Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today."


So the populist back-to-the-traditional Catholics side with Gibson, who broke from the Catholic Church because of Vatican II, and the Jews of France are busy defending Pope Paul VI and what he was up to in the mid-sixties, being forgiving and inclusive and all those sorts of things – that stuff Gibson hates. 

It’s a strange world.  Religion is nothing but trouble. 





Mel Gibson gets his audience in France…


Well, the matter has been settled as I see from a scan of items from l'Agence France-Presse (AFP) by way of The Tocqueville Connection.


Here’s the scoop:


PARIS, Feb 29 (AFP) - Mel Gibson's controversial film "The Passion of the Christ" will be shown in France despite rumours that it could not find a distributor, the Journal du Dimanche newspaper reported Sunday.

Gibson's production company Icon was quoted as saying that the name of the French distributor would be revealed Monday.

Marin Karmitz, president of the French National Federation of Film Distributors, angrily rejected reports that the film might be boycotted because of fears it could stoke anti-Semitism -- saying the row was manufactured as a marketing device.

"It was a deliberate tactic on the part of Icon to make themselves look like martyrs ... It is a totally unacceptable kind of marketing," he said.


It is?  Unacceptable?

This Karmitz fellow doesn’t know anything about marketing as we practice it here.  And no wonder Vivendi made such a hash of their brief ownership of Universal.  The French think us crass, but this seems just naïve.


On a lighter note, I did also come across this:



PARIS, March 3 (AFP) - Nostrils were twitching at Paris railway stations Wednesday as olfactory advertisements wafted the scent of rosemary over commuters to remind them of the joys of holidays in the south.

Timed to coincide with the return to work after the winter school break, the week-long campaign was launched by the region of Languedoc-Roussillon which wants to boost its image as a tourist destination.

Posters set up on the metro system are equipped with tiny emitters which spray out essence of rosemary -- the odour which "best evokes the atmosphere, food and landscape of Languedoc-Roussillon," the region's tourist office said.

Perfume manufacturers have used olfactory advertisements in the past, but this is the first time the technique has been used to promote tourism here, the office said.


Will we catch a whiff of similar promotions in the subways of New York and Boston?  Perhaps a strategic puff of nitrous oxide mixed with taco spices to make you think of visiting Los Angeles?

As for the French thinking of heading south, just don’t take the TGV to get there.  I once took the TGV nonstop run from Paris to Avignon.  Nice trip.  I wouldn’t do it today.



PARIS, March 3 (AFP) - The French government is being blackmailed by a previously-unknown group which has planted at least one bomb on the country's railway system and is demanding a ransom of more than five million dollars, the interior ministry said Wednesday.

Since December a group calling itself AZF has sent six letters to President Jacques Chirac and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, condemning France's political and economic establishment and threatening to explode 10 bombs on the railways unless the money is paid.

The government said it is taking the threat seriously and has activated the anti-terrorist section of the police as well as the domestic intelligence agency DST. A judicial investigation has been set up under the country's top anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere.

No group called AZF is known to the authorities, but it may be significant that AZF was the name of a chemical factory that blew up in the southern city of Toulouse in September 2001, killing 30 people and injuring around 1,000 others. The accident caused enormous local anger.

Police said there was not believed to be any link with Islamic terrorism.

The first letter, received on December 14, contained a series of denunciations of "politicians more pre-occupied with themselves than with the state ... a corrupt economy ... and a reductive education system" and ended with the words, "You will hear from us again soon."

In subsequent messages AZF described itself as a "pressure group of a terrorist nature." It said that 10 devices had been planted across the railway network, and that these had been fitted with timers to go off at intervals unless four million dollars and one million euros were handed over.


Actually this is quite refreshing.  Not much of a political agenda here, and certainly no fanatical religious agenda either – these guys just want the money.  Quite straightforward, isn’t it?

Perhaps this group could ask for a bit more if they identified themselves with some religion or other, or against some religion or other.  “Entrepreneur” may be a French word, but these guys need to get with the program.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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