Director Roland Joffe likens Opus Dei founder to Mandela

Roland Joffé

Roland Joffé

In an era of ideological conformity the founder of Opus Dei had the courage to tell people to think for themselves, and like Nelson Mandela in South Africa brought healing to Spain, the British film director Roland Joffé told an audience at the Vatican last night.

Presenting There Be Dragons at a private screening of 150 Vatican officials, he said St Josemaría Escrivá – one of the central characters in the movie, which opens Friday in Spain – “answered the question that his time gave him, which is that when politics was industrialising and the world was splitting into rigid opposing camps a young priest stood up in Spain and refused to condemn.”

The movie is set against the background of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) which left half a million dead and continues to divide Spain. In it the young Fr Escrivá tells his followers in the newly-created Opus Dei that they must forgive and not take sides – even against those who are wrong.

In this way, said Joffé, “Josemaría extended what I would call the warm embrace of the Church to people who weren’t Christian as well  … We are all in this world together. That was an extraordinary thing to do, and the power of that message I think is extraordinary and relevant to us.”

Among the audience at the Pontifical North-American College were 11 cardinals, eight bishops, 14 monsignori, and 24 ambassadors, as well as representatives from movements such as Focolare and Sant’Egidio with Jesuits, Franciscans and Dominicans.

Also in the audience were the writer and director Susanna Tamaro and the film composer Ennio Morricone, who composed the theme to one of Joffé’s 1980s epics, The Mission.

After the screening, Morricone said: “With this film Roland Joffe confirms his greatness as an intense and profound director of the highest quality".

Tamaro described the film as “powerful, very well filmed, and dramatically very effective”. By choosing to tell the story of opposing paths taken by two childhood friends, Joffé “brings out the importance of freedom which God gave us to try to reduce the power of evil in the world”.

Tamaro added that the film had the power “to do great good for the new generations deprived of great figures to admire and emulate”.

Joffé told them “it would be wonderful” if There Be Dragons, which premieres tomorrow evening in Madrid and goes on release in Spain Friday, helped the 21st century to be seen as “the century of reconciliation”, in which “we began once again to discover our innate humanity that exists in all of us” and to heal the wounds of the 20th century wars.

He added: “It’s wonderful that President Mandela was capable of doing that in South
Africa, and it’s wonderful to me that Josemaría Escrivá as a young man fought for the importance of that, and carried the Christian message in such a remarkable way that I who am, I confess, a rather wishy-washy agnostic, found myself standing in total admiration and driven to want to do my best for this movie.”

Joffé was introduced by the film’s executive producer, Ignacio Gómez-Sancha, who in 2008 left his job as general counsel to the Spanish stock exchange to raise the $40m budget for the film, attracting more than 100 investors from 10 different countries to his private equity fund, Mount Santa Fe.

Some of the investors, like Gómez-Sancha, are members of Opus Dei, but the organization itself has had no role in the movie. Joffé, who wrote the script, had complete creative freedom.

He told the audience at the Vatican rejected the idea of a “biopic” or biographical portrait of Escrivá.

“No saint would be saying, ‘make a film about me’, he told the audience. “But he might be saying, ‘make a film about what I thought about what I loved; about what drove me.’”

Among those watching last night was Mgr Luis Clavell, a Spanish priest of Opus Dei who worked closely with St Josemaría in Rome over many years. Mgr Calvell, who spent many hours sharing anecdotes with Joffé when the director was researching the script, said the portrayal of the Opus Dei founder in the fim was “excellent”, capturing the saint’s “strength of character”, as well as his capacity for love and forgiveness.

Because St Josemaría was naturally hot-tempered, his capacity for forgiveness was heroic, said Mgr Clavell. He recalled how, after the Spanish Civil War, a taxi driver had told the founder of Opus Dei it was a pity he had not been killed along with other priests.  St Josemaría’s reaction was to pay the driver and add a large tip to spend on a gift for his children.

In large part due to of a grassroots marketing campaign in Spain, the film has sold out across 360 screens in 300 cinemas this weekend. The movie opens in the US on 6 May. There is not yet a release date for the rest of Europe.




Share this story