Film That Compares Church to Taliban Regime Wins at Venice Festival

Vatican Radio Assails Decision on «The Magdalene Sisters»

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ROME, SEPT. 10, 2002 ( The Venice Film Festival has drawn heated criticism for awarding its Golden Lion prize to a film depicting the Catholic Church as a kind of Taliban.

Church officials and film critics alike took offense at the festival’s praising of «The Magdalene Sisters» on Sunday.

Film director Peter Mullen, a Scot, produced a brutal if fanciful portrait of the abuses suffered by four young Irish women, living in the 1960s in a fictional Sisters of Charity’s Magdalene boarding school.

According to the director, the young women’s «sin» was that they were single, good-looking and intelligent. They are portrayed as victims of an assault that is being covered up.

The film makes comparisons of the Church with the Taliban. Vatican Radio called the choice of the film-festival jury, presided over by Chinese actress Gong Li, as a «painful and offensive» decision.

L’Osservatore Romano, the semiofficial Vatican newspaper, described the film «as an angry and spiteful provocation, using Nazi faces.»

Valerio Riva, adviser of the Venice Biennial, refused to participate in the prize giving, calling it crude propaganda.

Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, archbishop emeritus of Ravenna, described the award as a dishonor for the festival and wondered what kind of «historical truth» the film could be based on.

Andrea Piersanti, director of the film magazine Il Cinematografo, said: «It gives the impression that the jury let themselves be influenced by the controversies. To award this film, which is clearly anti-clerical, is a sign that must be carefully evaluated.»

For his part, Father Luca Pellegrini, assistant at the secretariat of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said: «Although it is well done technically, there is much to discuss on the content,» he said. «I think that the director wanted to generalize the phenomenon of Magdalene boarding schools, to provoke a strong reaction from the public and the critics.»

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