July 23, 2016
The Philippine premiere of "Ignacio de Loyola" at the Theater at Solaire this afternoon was very special indeed. This showing was a fund-raising activity mainly attended by members of the Ateneo de Manila community, for the benefit of the Jesuit Infirmary (for elderly debilitated priests) and the Jesuit Formation (for training young priests). On top of that, the entire musical score of the film was performed LIVE by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra (under the baton of Gerard Salonga); with the Ateneo Chamber Singers handling the chorale segments.
I had never watched a film with live music this way, and it was a totally unique and enthralling experience. I am very fortunate to have had this rare opportunity today because I am not sure if another one would ever come again. It is said to be the first movie ever to premiere locally accompanied by a live orchestral musical score. Performing the musical score live in sync with the film must have entailed a lot of practice and it was perfection today. The choral voices of the ACS were soaring and ethereal as it complements the orchestra in creating an atmosphere of divinity and solemnity.
"Ignacio de Loyola" is a film of many firsts. This is the first film to be produced by the Jesuit Communications (or JesCom), the media outfit of the Jesuits community in the Philippines. They sourced funds from Jesuits communities all over the world, as well as generous local sponsors, to be able to finance the creation of this film. The cast we see on screen are all Spanish actors, but the entire production crew behind it is Filipino, led by the writer-director Paolo Dy, his first ever feature film. Last June 14, 2016, it was the first Filipino film ever to have a premiere in the Salle della Filmoteca at the Vatican, a private theater where Popes watch films.
This film tells the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (or the Jesuits). We first meet him as Inigo, a decadent and arrogant young nobleman. He was a gallant but reckless soldier who longed for a hero's' death on the battlefield. However, God had other plans for this young man as injury and depression led him to discover the Lord in an extraordinarily profound manner. The film leads us through his conversion to poverty, his Spiritual Exercises and his brush with the dreaded Inquisition.
Paolo Dy had written an excellent distillation of life highlights based on the autobiography of the saint himself. The first half may feel slow on the build up, but it escalated its pace steadily and surely. By the second half that detailed his spiritual transformation, the words were so beautifully written and so inspirational to listen to. You may worry a religious film like this may be boring, but this was not. It was engaging, and got better as the film went on. There were even some moments of unexpected humor.
Lead actor Andreas Munoz really rallied in the second half to display his most passionate acting performance. There was no doubting his sincerity when he was acting out St. Ignatius's eloquent words, while preaching on the streets of Salamanca with his early disciples, and especially in those intense scenes in the cave and on trial.
As the main antagonist, Gonzalo Trujillo seemed miscast as the formidable lead Inquisitor Fr. Frias. He did not even fit his costumes well and this affected his credibility with his role. Julio Perillan had his good moments as Inigo's defender Fr. Sanchez, particularly in his closing argument. However, his very thick, almost bouffant hairstyle can be distracting.
Paolo Dy did very well for his ambitious directorial debut for a film of such epic scope. His telling of this sprawling story managed to be generally clear in its focus. The second half is very wordy and philosophical, but Dy was able to execute and present this part in a fascinating manner, which was a very pleasant surprise. He seemed to be over-reliant on showing montages of flashbacks of Inigo's various life moments. These can be confounding as they were being repeated in various times, sometimes with unclear motivations.
"Ignacio de Loyola" does not feel like a Filipino film at all not only because of the all-Spanish cast and the English dialogue. The camera work and film editing were simple but clean and commendable. Ryan Cayabyab's musical score was really breathtaking as it soared during the intensely inspirational moments of the film, and was hauntingly quiet in the most intimate scenes. Actually hearing this music performed live while watching the film gave an additional richness of dimension. The quality of the visual effects and some costumes may betray the limited budget, but these were only minor quibbles in the general scheme of things.
This film exhorts us to be better soldiers of God during our life, mainly by denying the temporal trappings and prioritizing what really matters most. If you watch this film with the proper frame of mind and attitude, the message will definitely get across and egg you to learn more about St. Ignatius's life and times, as well as about his most important legacy -- the Society of Jesus and setting the "world on fire" with the passion for God.
Film alone: 8/10. With the live orchestral musical score: 9/10.