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The last twelve hours in the life of Jesus, as pieced together from the Gospels of the New Testament, starting at the Garden of Olives (Gethsemane) where Jesus (Jim Caviezel) has gone to pray after the Last Supper. Jesus resists Satanís temptations. Betrayed by Judas Iscariot (Luca Lionello), Jesus is arrested and taken back to within the city walls of Jerusalem where the leaders of the Pharisees confront him with accusations of blasphemy. First Pilate (Hristo Spovov) and then Herod (Luca de Dominicis) refuse to condemn him to death. Pilate offers to flog him severely. But the Pharisees are adamant, and the Romans finally oblige, crucifying him with brutal relish.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
ĎVanityí books, those printed up by their author, often suffer from a lack of discipline or rigour as they do not pass through the usual filters like agents, editors and publishers. Likewise, Mel Gibsonís long-heralded cinematic version of the Gospels has reached audiences just as Mel Gibson has intended. And moreís the pity. Being passionate about your subject is one thing, being blindly obsessed by it is another. Thatís how it seems, anyway, with a pious and simplified view of Jesus playing the silent victim in an overzealous production of his beating and crucifixion.

With the exception of three or four flashbacks in which the gentle Jesus, meek and mild, preaches kindness, love for your enemy and urges his followers to follow him to the right hand of God, the film is a graphically vicious and brutally bloody portrayal of the arrest, the mocking, the trial, the beating and the crucifixion.†

This is an over-indulgent version of the traditionally worn out view of the event, which was written into the Gospels almost 2,000 years ago, with the specific purpose of reaching the masses with a fantastic fable. What facts they retained were embellished and these engorged elements have turned up here in still bigger outlines. The film is not too concerned with any context, concentrating on the agonies that the brutal punishment inflicted. The Passion, as itís called.

Gibson is not content to focus on the brutality, he succumbs to slo-mo-itis, so we have at least four versions of Jesus falling to the ground as he carries his cross, in slo-mo. Elsewhere, he persuades the talented Caleb Deschanel to take the camera into his hand to create a sense of chaos. At the end, he even gives us the shaking camera to portray an earthquake that symbolically splits a temple and shakes the ground around the cross. These are just some of the signs of a simplistic, pumped up story telling style that leaves us aghast at the blood spilt but aching for some meaning, some connection, something to be said. He has nothing to say. At least it isnít in English: his decision to use languages of the time is the best thing about it, with its speech rhythms and sounds matching the period.

When I was being taught by Catholic priests in England, I already had a bloody view of the Gospel story, punctuated by the 12 stations of the cross around every church. The horror didnít help then, and it doesnít help now.

Neither does the appearance of a devil incarnated as a vaguely androgynous, pale faced creature, first at Gesthemane and later at the crucifixion, where it carries a monstrous baby.†

As for the controversy preceding the filmís release, Mel Gibsonís production and distribution company can say a prayer of thanks that some people took offence early enough to hype up the filmís controversies. Frankly, the Jews neednít worry about anti-Semitism. Itís the Italians who should be waving legal writs, claiming racial/ ethnic slurs for the way their ancestors are portrayed as thuggish and rowdy boors whoíd play dice at the foot of the cross, cackling all the time. Indeed, brutish Roman soldiers cackling at Jesusí misery, or taking pleasure in beating him to within a sandle-sole of his life are far too frequent on screen. Itís amateurish overkill.

Maia Morgenstern was pregnant during filming; not that you can tell, but it underscores how wrong she is as the mother of Jesus, who is 33. She doesnít look older than his sister.†

But the final insult to our intelligence is the end shot of a healed Jesus, smooth of skin and free of the thousand scars and wounds Ė except for a neat hole in his hand we glimpse as he walks naked out of frame. I hope I havenít spoilt the ending for you.

Review by Louise Keller:
Irrespective of your religious beliefs, Mel Gibsonís brutal depiction of the most renowned story of sacrifice and love is distressing to the very core. It doesnít matter how prepared you are for the violence, it is savage.

It is clear that Gibsonís intention is to shock us with the brutality of the persecution and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. And in that, he absolutely succeeds. To a large extent we are somewhat sensitised to violence, given the regularity and intensity of what we see on our cinema screens. But there is an immeasurable difference in watching a violent battle scene on screen as opposed to two hours of torture inflicted on a defenceless and non-retaliating human being. It feels like torture. After the prolonged hammering in of the first nail in Jesusí left hand, my heart whimpered Ďoh noí, as the process began on the other hand, followed by the feet.

Gibson is passionate about the topic and it shows Ė at times to his detriment, as The Passion of The Christ is a singular, often simplistic view of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Christ. The film is the star, not Jim Caviezel, who is perfectly cast, and quite extraordinary. I really like Hristo Naumov Shopovís Pontius Pilate, and Romanian actress Maia Morgensternís serene, devastated Mary. There may well be controversy over the casting of 42 year old Morgenstern as the mother of Christ (to 36 year old Caviezel as Jesus), and the casting of voluptuous and well recognisable Monica Belluci as Mary Magdalene. But this film will not be short of controversy. It will raise many an eyebrow, propel many a discussion and ignite debate everywhere. This too, is Gibsonís intention.

Visually, the film is superb, looking as though it is indeed a Caravaggio painting come to life. With its sharp contrasts and emphasis on browns, black and beige, the look of the film is striking, as is composer John Debneyís dense and rousing score. From contrasting playful flutes to the intensity of resounding choral passages and booming percussion, this is an evocative and visceral score.

Gibsonís conviction to use a mix of Aramaic (which the actors learned phonetically) and Latin is extraordinary in itself, although much of the storytelling is visual, and words are not required. The costumes are striking and the make-up is astonishing, never overshadowing the viciousness of the events. On two occasions, we see the world from Jesusí point of view Ė as he is dragged through puddles of blood after the flogging and as he carries falters carrying the cross. Everything is upside down, and this is no doubt Gibsonís message too. The world is an upside down place Ė where is the sense in anything? This is truly an upsetting film Ė I felt ill to the very core.

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(US, 2004)

CAST: James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, Toni Bertorelli, Hristo Shopov, Luca de Dominicis

PRODUCER: Bruce Davey, Mel Gibson, Stephen McEveety

DIRECTOR: Mel Gibson

SCRIPT: Benedict Fitzgerald, Mel Gibson


EDITOR: not credited

MUSIC: John Debney

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Francesco Frigeri

OTHER: Languages - Aramaic / Latin / Hebrew

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 25, 2004

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