French film buffs worried that anti-Semitism charges could bar them from seeing Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ will get to see the movie after all thanks to a Tunisian Muslim producer ready to distribute it.
This movie-mad country was rife with rumours last week that wary distributors would boycott the film because it could spark anti-Semitic violence, a problem haunting France's large Muslim and Jewish minorities for several years.
The daily Le Figaro reported on Tuesday that The Passion would open in France on 4 April, two days after it hits cinemas in Spain and shortly before it reaches neighbouring Italy and Germany.
Tariq bin Ammar, a major film broker with business ties to media tycoon Rupert Murdoch and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Bersluconi, told interviewers the film stressed forgiveness and blamed the Romans rather than the Jews for Christ's death.
"I thought it was my duty as a Muslim who believes in Jesus, who respects and was brought up in the three (monotheist) religions, to have this film shown to the French and let them judge it for themselves," he told TF1 television late on Monday.
"It's a powerful film and not at all anti-Semitic, as viewers who go to watch it will see," he told Le Figaro in remarks explaining that the criticism that preceded the film's US premiere last week was based on an early script and not its final version.
Bin Ammar told TF1 he had discussed producing the film in his native Tunisia with Gibson three years ago, but the September 11 attacks in the United States stymied that project and the film was made in Italy.
"When I saw the film two weeks ago, I was deeply touched because it shows what Christ really went through in his final hours ... it's a powerful film and not at all anti-Semitic, as viewers who go to watch it will see"
Tariq bin Ammar
Tunisian film broker
"It is a film against fundamentalism," he said. Defending the graphic violence Gibson portrays, he added: "He wanted to show the barbarity of the Romans, because it was the Romans who killed Christ."
Bin Ammar, who produced Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth and Roberto Rossellini's The Messiah in the 1970s, has also been involved in the production of such popular films as the Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark series.