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 The Passion of the Christ
 Critic's Rating
   [A-]
 Date Posted
   6th April, 2004
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Cast: James Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Rosalinda Celentano
Director: Mel Gibson

Drenched in the most divisive and verbose media scrutiny known to Hollywood (and beyond), Mel Gibson's controversial "The Passion of the Christ" has finally arrived for our conscientious examination. The film which is based on the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's life has become something of an unexpected cultural phenomenon that everyone wants to experience and no one can afford to miss. There are many reasons why this film has succeeded but, I suspect, in a time of global socio-political turmoil, its continuing popularity is another valuable reminder of the inherent power of love and forgiveness. Frenzied publicity and public divisions over the alleged anti-Semitic undertones notwithstanding, such noble values are the primary lessons to be learnt from "The Passion."

Grounded in Christian theology (and in the clear absence of context perhaps made for an exclusive audience), the film shows us Jim Caviezel as the quietly perseverant Jesus of Nazareth who endures unspeakable torture before his crucifixion. This is "The Passion's" focus a visceral interpretation of the brutality Jesus suffers when he is delivered to Roman governor Pontus Pilate (Hristo Shopov) for the ultimate punishment by an angry Jewish high-priest and mob that views Jesus' teachings as a threat to their age-old religious coda and authority. We then witness a brand of sadist cruelty that includes bloody floggings and beatings before Jesus' gruesome impalement on the cross. The violence is shocking but understandably necessary to compound the gravity of the situation. Between the carnage we welcome flashbacks of a younger Jesus with his mother, Mary (a powerful performance by Maia Morgenstern). These moments provide gentle respite and a disarming counter-balance to the savagery; but most significantly they underline the strong bond of love between a son and his mother. Such is the warmth of their relationship that one particular sequence in which Jesus collapses under the weight of his cross and Mary rushes to embrace him brought tears to my eyes. Especially because when Jesus suffers so does his mother the physical and emotion pain is immeasurable; and it is unbearable for both.

Mel Gibson has designed this film to hark back to the expressionist era of Hollywood where mute looks not words unfurled the story. Here he uses Jim Caviezel's uncomplicated presence to explicate Jesus' inner conflict it is a great portrayal, understated and intense. "The Passion" is essentially an art film; Gibson unfortunately also attempts to use in it mass-appeal methods that include highly stylised cinematography with numerous slow-motions and an overuse of loud, pompous soundtrack. These elements confirm our suspicion that he wants the audience to feel exactly what he wants them to feel, when he wants. Though such tricks chip away some of the nuance and subtlety so central to experiencing such intimate cinema, it is a small price to pay in the context of his overall accomplishment: having the determination and passion to make an unconventional, spiritual picture that puts universal themes of faith, love and forgiveness above the shallow demands of commerce.

"The Passion of the Christ" may not be a great film by any accepted norm or standard, but it is without doubt a memorable and moving experience. I implore you to see it without prejudice, at your earliest. - Adnan Khan

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