The Irish Film Censor, John Kelleher, has taken the unusual step of issuing a press release which sets out the reasoning behind his granting of a 15PG certificate for Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ.

The statement [see below] deals with the issue of the film's purported anti-semitism, and with the film's graphic representation of the violence visited on Jesus Christ in his last hours.

In Ireland the office of Film Censor operates under the aegis of the Department of Justice and has, historically, been slow to account for its decisions. In issuing the statement Mr Kelleher, a film producer who was appointed in April, is following the precedent set by his predecessor, Sheamus Smith, who issued a statement explaining his liberal age-classification of Neil Jordan's Michael Collins.

The Passion Of The Christ will be released in Ireland on March 12. Of the total fifty prints some thirty-five to forty will play in the Republic of Ireland and the remainder will screen in Northern Ireland.


'The Passion of the Christ'

The forthcoming cinema release of Mel Gibson's film, 'The Passion of the Christ', has attracted widespread international attention and there has been particular comment on its explicit violence and what some critics are reported to consider its apparent anti-Semitism.

The film is clearly a strong personal statement of the director's own religious faith, but I do not believe that his purpose is anti-Semitic. In my judgement, the film's critical stance relates to certain Jewish leaders of the period and not to the Jewish people in general.

As a serious cinematic dramatisation of an event that goes to the core of belief of very many people in Ireland, this film will have a particular resonance here and is likely to be of interest to a wide audience.

As regards its violence, I am conscious that some persons, irrespective of age, will find the film's scenes of explicit cruelty and violence disturbing.

With the foregoing considerations in mind, I have certified the film as 15PG, which, for the avoidance of doubt, means that no person under the age of fifteen should be admitted unless accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.

This certification is issued upon the express condition that the following words must be included in all publicity materials (i.e. posters, trailers, print/radio/tv advertising and cinema billings) and must also be displayed in a prominent position in all cinema foyers:

Caution: This film contains scenes of explicit violence which may disturb some viewers.

Meanwhile, in Italy Eagle Pictures has acquired all Italian rights to The Passion. (Eagle is believed to have seen the film 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.)

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 - which would explain the decision to give the film to Eagle, which has a strong commercial background, and usually releases action pictures and horror films.

The film will be released in Italy on April 7, on 150 screens.

It is unlikely to attract censorship problems - few films in Italy ever do, and given the number of screens and the distributor, it appears that it's being treated as a mainstream feature.