The Venice Film Festival awarded a special jury prize on September 8 to “Paradise: Faith.” The film is part of a trilogy; Strand Releasing has acquired the U.S. rights and plans to release it early next year.
Catholic League president Bill Donohue , who has often been involved in controversies concerning art and media offensive to Catholics and other Christians, commented, "One of the hallmarks of cultural charlatans is the propensity to insult Christians, especially Catholics, and then declare their offense creative. If anyone wants to know why a special jury prize was given to “Paradise: Faith,” let me spare you the need to read about it: it won because it shows a devout Catholic woman masturbating with a crucifix."
The controversial movie has drawn comparisons to a work by artist Andres Serrano called 'Piss Christ", which brought upon opprobrium upon the artist and a gallery showing his work in 1987. In that instance, Serrano had exhibited a photograph of a small crucifix reportedly immersed in the artist's own urine. Donohue, along with numerous Christian groups and conservative politicians, protested Serrano's work while noting that he had received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Regarding the film "Paradise: Faith", Donohue said, "The movie begins with the woman, Anna Maria, played by Maria Hofstaetter, whipping herself topless before a crucifix. A strange gal, she is shown walking around the house on her knees praying. She also likes to go door to door carrying a two-foot high statue of the Virgin Mary; this is her way of getting new converts. She earns our empathy when we learn she is stuck in a lousy marriage with a Muslim in a wheelchair (he has no legs)."
Said Donohue, "Hofstaetter, like the director, Ulrich Seidl, was raised Catholic. True to form, she admits that “as a youngster I rebelled against the authority of the Catholic Church” (authority problems are not uncommon with her ilk). Yet she says she has “profoundly Christian values,” the kind which, evidently, allow her to masturbate with a crucifix."
Quoting Seidl, Donohue continued "“Over the centuries,Catholicism has suppressed sexuality, and of course, this triggered a counter-movement.' This explains why he can say that “it is right to show her masturbating using a cross, as she is making love to Jesus. Just because it might be a taboo doesn’t mean that I won’t show it.” But how much courage does it take to insult Catholics?" Finally, the voluble Donohue said, "In any event, Seidl is a liar. In his home country, Austria, they arrest those who disparage the Holocaust. Not that we would approve, but a real taboo-buster would take on that subject. However, don’t expect Seidl to do so—cultural charlatans don’t have the stomach for breaking unsafe taboos.