The Passion of the Christ a hit in Beirut, Damascus
Sunday, March 28, 2004
It is very sad, extremely impressive: Cardinal Sfeir
BEIRUT: Mel Gibsons controversial film The Passion of the Christ, accused
by some Jewish organisations of encouraging anti-Semitism, is drawing a sizeable
if unexceptional audience here while apparently touching an emotional nerve
in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Coming out of the theatre ... I saw a lot of people in tears, reported
Fayez Wehbe, who saw the film with Arabic sub-titles in Damascus.
Certain sequences are in Aramaic, the language that was dominant in the Holy
Land at the time of Christ and which can still be heard in certain towns in
Syria, notably Maalula and Saadnaya near Damascus.
Some members of the audience could not conceal their astonishment on
hearing some expressions such as Ya Illah (My God) that are close
to Arabic, said Wehbe.
Added another Syrian cinema-goer: The fact that this film is being shown
in the current Middle East context, which opposes Israel and the Arabs, explains
part of its success.
Given its popularity in Damascus a fourth showing has been added to the three
that had been initially offered, with people often buying tickets in the morning
to be sure of getting a place.
The film has spawned reams of commentary because of its unflinchingly graphic
portrayal of Christs crucifixion. In some quarters it has been seen as
promoting anti-Semitism by a negative depiction of Christs fellow Jews,
while that view has been strongly rejected in others.
Here in Beirut, the film has been warmly received. Lebanons Maronite
church has described it as impressive and found it not to be anti-Semitic.
It is very sad, extremely impressive, commented Cardinal Nasrallah
Sfeir, the spiritual head of the Maronite church. We dont see any
An official from one of Beiruts larger movie houses said the public
has come in strong numbers to see The Passion but it has not been an exceptional
North of the capital, in the heavily Christian Junieh region, the film is selling
well, although it is off limits to youths under the age of 15.
Elsewhere in the Arab world, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat saw the film
at his headquarters in Ramallah on the West Bank and pronounced it moving.
The Passion of the Christ will also be shown in Cairo, where it is likewise
forbidden to minors because of its violent scenes, starting March 31, and has
been available to movie goers in the Gulf state of Qatar since last Sunday.
We submitted The Passion of the Christ to the censorship committee, which
had no objection to its screening in Qatar, said Abdul Rahman Mohsen,
the director general of a private Qatari cinema company.
The committee usually censors scenes or images depicting prophets from the
The film is being shown three times a day in a cinema in Doha and will be screened
for at least one month, Mohsen said.
Three other Gulf states are currently still reviewing the film, he said.
The movie will be shown to the public in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) beginning March 31 after having been given the green light by the ministry of culture and information, the UAEs Gulf News reported on Sunday. AFP