Friday, June 27, 2014

THERE BE DRAGONS

Charlie Cox, Wes Bentley, Dougray Scott
Rodrigo Santoro, Olga Kurylenko

"Even Saints have a Past"


Renowned British director Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields, The Mission, City of Joy) tackles with keen precision the Spanish Civil War which he used as a backdrop to the story of two childhood friends who veer off into different paths. 

When "There be Dragons" was first released in 2011, the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) publicly endorsed it because it featured the life story of Saint Jose Maria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei. 

In this film, his story is unearthed by a journalist named Roberto Torres (Dougray Scott) who was assigned to write about Jose Maria Escriva, who was then still a candidate for canonization to sainthood. It turns out his estranged father, Judge Manolo Torres (Wes Bentley) was a childhood friend of the founder of Opus Dei. Although Manolo is reluctant at first to recount his past as it still haunts him, he gives in and records it through audio tapes.

This is told in haunting flashbacks as the dying Manolo Torres confesses to his son his crimes and misdeeds circa 1936 when he was a spy working for the Fascist government and he was able to embed himself among the Communist rebels who were led by its leader, Oriol (Rodrigo Santoro). The tale also revolves around the saga of courageous Catholic priest Jose Maria Escriva (Charlie Cox), as well as an ambitious Hungarian volunteer fighter Ildiko (Olga Kurylenko).

So although we are led to believe that this is a biopic of Escriva, the more the film unfolded the more it looked like Manolo Torres had a more pivotal role. Never mind that Manolo Torres is a fictional character and that he was just born out of the figment of Joffe's imagination.  Other than a brief childhood friendship, nothing really connects Manolo and Jose Maria, together. Their stories move forward on parallel tracks that never really intersect or even reflect one another in any meaningful way. 

It also left me wondering how come Jose Maria Escriva's tale was left stranded in the 1930s after he was able to escape and make it safely across the Andorra mountains?  What happened after his escape? How did the Opus Dei flourish? Was his life really 'saintly'?

Perhaps Joffe who is a confessed agnostic didn't want his film to take an overtly religious tone. Perhaps he merely wanted to examine both the goodness and the evil that dwelt in these two men's souls. I can only assume and speculate at this point and form my opinion on merely what was presented in this film.

Having said that, I believe that "There be Dragons" is a good movie, worth seeing. And it should appeal to a wide range of audience regardless of their religious beliefs. The portrayal of the Spanish Civil War is even handed and the action sequences were competent. The cast do their best to flesh out their characters although some of the dialogue can be a tad 'corny' for lack of a better word. It also dealt with redemption, remorse and forgiveness on a wide broad spectrum as essayed by the lives of Manolo Torres and St. Jose Maria Escriva.
Robert Torres said in the film "I think it was Oscar Wilde who said: Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future."
Oscar Wilde was right!

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