Italy's main animal rights group has asked prosecutors to stop further screenings of Giuseppe Tornatore's new film Baaria because it features the gruesome slaughtering of a bull.

The head of the National Association for Animal Protection (ENPA), Carla Rocchi, filed a complaint saying the scene in Italy's film choice for the Academy Awards -- in which the bull is first struck with an ice pick and then has its throat slit while still alive -- amounted to senseless cruelty.

ENPA also asked that Tornatore, whose 1988 movie Cinema Paradiso won a foreign film Oscar, be prosecuted.

Baaria, which premiered last month at the Venice film festival and has just been released in Italy, is a big-budget, sentimental sweep through 20th century Sicily, taking in Fascism, war, Communism and the Mafia.

Tornatore, who based the film partly on his own memories of life in his native Sicily, said this week the bull scene was shot in a slaughterhouse in Tunisia after an attempt to recreate it with computer images proved ineffective.

It's a very brief, documentary-like scene in a fiction film, Tornatore told Corriere della Sera daily.

A spokesman for film producers Medusa told Reuters: Tornatore did not create that scene for the film, he simply filmed the killing of a bull.