November 14, 2011
This is a movie that has been well-endorsed by the Catholic Church here in our country. It is supposed to deal with the life of a saint, St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of the controversial organization, the Opus Dei. I must admit that even if I had friends who were members of Opus Dei, I do not really know much about them or about their organization, only what I hear from the outside. I am mostly interested to learn the historical milieu of this film that is why I wanted to watch this.
The story is told in flashbacks from the point of view of one Manolo Torres as his estranged son Robert interviews him about his friend Josemaria Escriva (who was then already on his way to becoming a saint in 1982). Manolo and Josemaria were childhood friends. Class differences broke up their friendship as the kids grew up. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War broke them up even more, as Josemaria went into the priesthood and Manolo went with an anti-clerical militia group. Important revelations about Robert himself would also surface as his father begs for forgiveness for his past.
It felt ironic that Escriva was not exactly the central character of this movie since all the publicity was about him. We do see the beginnings of his organization of lay workers who lived together, much like today's Opus Dei centers. But other than that, Escriva was merely a side character in the main story of Manolo and his efforts to find redemption for his terrible decisions in his life. You will not really learn much detail about Escriva or the Opus Dei by watching this film, but you may be inspired to learn more about him. In fact, during the latter third of the film, the character of Escriva was not even on screen until the epilogue.
The story was admittedly very slow to unfold (nearly two hours), but we are treated to some masterfully beautiful cinematography. I was excited to see the name of Roland Joffe as the director. It had certainly been a very long time since he gave us classics like "The Mission" and "The Killing Fields," and you can really see his classy touch here. For a film with heavy religious undertones, I was surprised to learn that Joffe was an agnostic. That may actually have been good for this film, as it did not go overboard with religious propaganda. The acting of the leads Wes Bently (as Manolo) and Charlie Cox (as Escriva) were proficient though a bit wooden. I also welcomed the unexpected presence of exotic Bond Girl Olga Kurilenko as Ildiko, the tragic woman in Manolo's life. Overall, I think this movie is worth the time to watch, and maybe even re-watch.