May 16, 2008 / 5:33 AM / 10 years ago

Documentary revives debate about religious satire

CANNES (Hollywood Reporter) - Do we have the right to caricature God? This and other questions involving religion and freedom of speech raised by the controversial Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed are examined by “It’s Tough Being Loved by Jerks.”

<p>Afghans burn a Netherlands flag during a protest in Kabul March 21, 2008. Some 5,000 Afghans chanted "death to Denmark and "death to the Netherlands" in the capital Kabul on Friday, protesting the reprinting of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in Danish newspapers and a Dutch film on the Koran. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood</p>

The documentary, from Frenchman Daniel Leconte, screens at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday.

Leconte said he hopes to provoke healthy debate, even if that upsets some people.

“We have to have this debate, because when we do, we win the argument,” he said. “As soon as you explain that it’s not Muslims that are targeted (in the caricatures) but those who kill in the name of that religion, it’s different. It’s like the difference between the Inquisition and all other Catholics. I wouldn’t put (Tomas de) Torquemada in with Francis of Assisi. The extremists know they’ll lose in debate, so they spread terror to widen the gap between East and West, between Islam and democracy.”

“Jerks” follows the unprecedented 2007 trial of a French newspaper for allegedly insulting Muslims, and with radical Islam a hot topic for international media, it is bound to attract interest from buyers here.

<p>Afghans burn a Netherlands flag during a protest in Kabul March 21, 2008. Some 5,000 Afghans chanted "death to Denmark and "death to the Netherlands" in the capital Kabul on Friday, protesting the reprinting of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in Danish newspapers and a Dutch film on the Koran. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood</p>

The movie’s starting point is the publication of 10 caricatures by Danish paper Jyllands Posten, which prompted protests and flag burning in sections of the Arab/Muslim community worldwide.

When the caricatures subsequently were printed by Gallic paper Charlie Hebdo, the satirical weekly added a front-cover cartoon portraying Mohammed weeping into his hands and declaring: “It’s tough being loved by jerks,” in specific reference to Islamic fundamentalists.

The publication prompted the Paris Mosque and other Muslim organizations to start legal proceedings for “insult towards a group of people on grounds of their religion” -- interpreted by the plaintiffs as racism.

“If the plaintiffs win this case, we won’t wake up in the same France,” “Shoah” director Claude Lanzmann says in the film. Lanzmann, whose 1985 Holocaust documentary won a slew of international awards, testified at the trial. Leconte also was called as a witness.

The film follows the buildup to the trial and re-creates the arguments that were presented in court through interviews with many of the principal protagonists. Charlie Hebdo was cleared of the charges.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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