Award-winning director Roland Joffé discussed his upcoming film “There Be Dragons” in a Thursday press conference. The film, set during the brutal Spanish Civil War and based on the life of St. Josemaria Escriva, can teach about love and forgiveness between families and enemies, Joffé said.
The film begins with a young journalist, estranged from his military father Manolo, who conducts research on the life of Opus Dei founder and priest St. Josemaria Escriva. He discovers his father was a childhood friend of the future saint, and also uncovers family secrets.
The movie then flashes back to the Spanish Civil War. There, a young Manolo played by actor Wes Bentley becomes obsessed with the Hungarian revolutionary Ildiko, played by actress Olga Kurylenko. She rejects him in favor of the militia leader Oriol, moving Manolo to jealousy and betrayal.
At the same time Josemaria Escriva, played by Charlie Cox, grows in his life of faith.
Joffé, director of "The Mission" and "The Killing Fields," explained to the Thursday press conference that he had initially intended to decline “There Be Dragons.” While writing his “thank you, but no” letter, Joffé explained, he watched a DVD of St. Josemaria sent by one of the producers. At one point in the DVD, a girl told St. Josemaria about her intent to convert to Catholicism and the problems it could cause with her Jewish parents. To this, the priest emphasized the necessity for her to honor her parents as “absolutely close to God.”
It was such a “warm reply,” Joffé said, that he sketched a dramatic scene of a similar event and was “hooked.” He then accepted the offer to direct the film.
According to Joffé, St. Josemaria “saw that saintliness didn’t require withdrawal into religious order or require one to become a priest. Saintly acts could be performed by ordinary people in their everyday lives, which was a radical idea.”
This idea is open to so many people, Joffé said, because it encourages a spiritual relationship with God in “very simple things,” in cooking a meal, being with one’s family, or even having a fight.
This provided an insight for the movie, which faced the difficulty of dramatizing a saint’s life. Joffé said he could portray ordinary people trapped in war in an “extraordinary and touching way.”
Redemption and forgiveness
Joffé added that Christian redemption is a major theme of the movie. Christianity is based on love and forgiveness, and redemption “can’t come without love.”
Describing the character Manolo as the “antithesis” of Josemaria, the director reported that he commits a horrible act but must try to come to terms with it.
The director also noted the importance of forgiveness for a community and for Christianity.
“Nobody in Christianity is outside. You’re constantly offered the chance to arrive at the point to understand and accept redemption… There is no ‘end’ to this journey, it’s a continuing one in which each person is finding their own route. But it is a journey, and even your failure is part of that.”
Whole vs. divided
The director Joffé further explained the movie, naming as another of its themes the difference between a whole and a divided character.
The character Manolo is pulled in different directions, he explained, and is in some ways a Judas figure. However, the final action between him and Ildiko is a “saintly act” that people may find “shocking.”
War and Reconciliation
Noting the troubled legacy of the Spanish Civil War, Joffé said he hoped Spanish viewers will come to see the “complexity in human relationships” which is not often included in history.
“Take the hatred away,” he exhorted. “Love and affection has to stay, but can’t be allowed to ossify into ideological rigidities.
“I would be the proudest man in the world if only 10 percent came out of the cinema thinking ‘reconciliation matters.’”
The world audience for “There Be Dragons,” Joffé said, can find a common touchstone in the recognition that civil war is a metaphor for the family.
“Most families are in civil wars,” he claimed. “You can look at life as a metaphor for mistrust and fear, or as an opportunity for love… It’s a choice, and in making that decision you become free. You do not become free when you hate. The weird thing is when you really love, you feel it like a breath of freedom, you think ‘Oh my God, I’ve chosen this, and it’s beautiful’.”
The $35 million film was shot in Argentina and Sepulveda, Spain. Many individual investors were approached by the producers and invested large and small sums. Some investors were members of Opus Dei, while Spanish television money also helped fund the project.
“There Be Dragons” will be released sometime in 2010. Its website is at http://www.therebedragonsfilm.com/