Italian ratings system faces own 'Apocalypto'

Court overrules censors' decision

An Italian court has barred youths under 14 from seeing Mel Gibson's gory new film, "Apocalypto," overturning a decision by the country's censors who had deemed the movie fit for children.

The censors drew widespread criticism from politicians and parents' associations last week when they failed to impose any age restriction on the film, unlike most countries where it has been released.

Italy's Ministry of Culture said Monday it has started the process of reforming the country's film rating system amid the controversy surrounding the film's release.

Set during the Mayan civilization, the film's most gruesome scenes involve an orgy of Mayan bloodletting meant to satisfy their gods and stem an outbreak of smallpox. Human hearts are ripped out of bodies and heads of the victims tossed down the side of a pyramid.

The court's ban is temporary pending a Jan. 17 hearing, a lawyer for Codacons, the consumer group that brought the case in favor of setting an age limit, said Monday.

After Italy's court ban, only Russia is screening the film without an age restriction. The film is R-rated in the U.S. and has an age-18 certification in Britain and Germany.

According to reports, the controversy prompted four cinema owners to drop the film at the last minute, and several other cinemas took voluntary steps to prevent young viewers from buying tickets. Most cinemas reportedly carried posters warning that the film was unsuitable for those age 14 and under.

But none of that prevented the film from a strong opening, debuting at No. 2 behind James Bond flick "Casino Royale" and raking in more than $3 million in its first weekend.

Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli on Monday said he has no problem with violent films like "Apocalypto" showing in Italian cinemas but that they should not be made available to young people. Rutelli said the decision to not restrict entry to "Apocalypto" was made according to the rules, but that those rules should now be examined.

"The current system is 45 years old, and it is clearly not suited to modern times," Rutelli said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Culture would not say how the reform of the system will be carried out or how long it will take to complete. But the spokesman did say that discussions on the topic have already begun.