Mel Gibson's controversial new film, The Passion Of Christ, has found a distributor in Catholic Italy, with powerful Rome distributor Eagle Pictures acquiring all local rights to the picture.

Eagle is believed to have seen The Passion on the eve of the Venice film festival at a private screening that was held in Rome, for a selected group of leading European distributors. These included several from Italy, two or three from Germany, a couple from Benelux and one each from Scandinavia and Switzerland.

While Gibson's production company Icon and his agent ICM are rumoured not to have asked distributors for minimum guarantees, they are believed to have requested precise details of the distributors' marketing plans and p&a commitments.

As it stands, Eagle is one of the most commercially oriented distributors on the Italian market and is usually associated with horror/thriller films and action pictures.

Eagle is the distributor behind Italy's current number one, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which has just grossed $1.4m on its opening weekend.

The Passion, which stars Jim Caviezel and Italian star Monica Bellucci, is freely inspired from the Gospels of St. Luke, John, Mark and Matthew as well as the diaries of Anne Catherine Emmerich collected in the book The Dolorous Passion Of Our Lord Jesus Christ."

Said to be relentlessly violent, the film depicts the last 12 hours in the life of Christ and was shot in Latin, Aramaic and Hebrew, the languages of ancient Palestine. Gibson, who directs and produces, has said he would like the film to be released without sub-titles or dubbed versions.

Days ago, Vatican officials asked to see a preview of the movie at an upcoming conference on theology and cinema in Rome. However, Gibson says his film is not yet ready to be screened at the conference.

The Passion is expected to be released on February 25 in the US and around Easter in Italy.