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JOFFE Aug-27-2009 (820 words) With photo. xxxn
Filming starts on biography of Opus Dei founder
By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Filming has begun in Argentina on a biography of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei. The movie, "There Be Dragons," is expected to be released in the summer or fall of 2010.
Directing the film is Roland Joffe, whose past films include "The Mission" and "The Killing Fields."
Joffe, who also wrote the screenplay, said he was not told what to write or how to present either the saint or the group, a personal prelature within the church, after earlier rejecting an offer to film a script provided by Opus Dei.
The film is set at the time of the Spanish Civil War, which tore apart the European nation during the second half of the 1930s.
And, likening it to his own creative freedom, Joffe said St. Josemaria "made no attempt to influence the people he worked with in terms of their politics." The director spoke at an Aug. 23 press conference in Argentina that was conducted in English, Spanish and Portuguese; U.S. reporters were allowed to listen in.
"At that time, that's pretty heroic. That's a time when almost all human beings were faced with making extraordinary choices," he said.
Charlie Cox, whose past film credits include "Stardust" and "Casanova," plays the priest. Wes Bentley, who had parts in "Ghost Rider" and "American Beauty," plays Manolo, a friend of Josemaria's who goes in and out of his life. Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko, who has acted in "Quantum of Solace," "Hitman" and "Max Payne," plays Ildiko, a Hungarian woman who casts her lot with the Republican movement, which falls to the Francisco Franco-led rightist rebels.
Other actors in "There Be Dragons" include Dougray Scott, Geraldine Chaplin, Derek Jacobi and Charles Dance.
"We found ourselves making a film about love -- human love and divine love. About hate -- which I guess is human -- about betrayal and mistakes," Joffe said. Further, "I don't know if there's anybody who wants to live his life without meaning. So it's also a story about people trying to find meaning about their lives, and that's a powerful kind of story."
Responding to a question about source material for the script, Joffe said, "I researched as much as any writer can. History is not available to us; attempts at history are available to us. As an artist, one takes a difficult step that fiction is a way of understanding the truth.
"There were certain liberties I could take if those liberties could take us to the personal issues that people felt," Joffe continued, saying he was taken with St. Josemaria's idea that "a way to God is found through everyday life. And that life is also found through the Spanish Civil War. That is still felt by Spaniards very much today."
"I've been to many Opus Dei centers, and met many Opus Dei members (in doing research for the movie). And I've yet to encounter anything odd-seeming," said Cox. "I've been brought up a Catholic. I'm not a great practicing Christian. I've been to church infrequently, but I've never stopped going."
Cox added there is "an inner journey I've been going on during this film. I don't know where it will lead. My relationship with the Catholic Church and with God has certainly been profoundly affected for the better throughout this process," he added.
Asked whether he thought St. Josemaria was really a saint, Cox answered, "It's an impossible question to answer. ... I have to leave that up to the Catholic Church and not to myself."
Joffe recalled that when he made "The Mission," which dealt with Jesuit missionary activity in South America at the time of the slave trade, he used two Jesuits as advisers: a "very, very right-wing Jesuit -- those things do exist -- and a left-wing Jesuit, Father Daniel Berrigan."
He said he asked Father John Wauck, an Opus Dei priest who is a professor of literature and communication of the faith at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, "whether he'd serve the same purpose as Daniel Berrigan -- explain to Charlie (Cox) what he knew about Josemaria ... in as open and honest way as he could, what it means to be a priest. That's what he gave up his rather precious time to do, and I'm grateful for it."
When one questioner asked whether he thought "There Be Dragons" was some kind of response to the movie "The Da Vinci Code," which characterized Opus Dei as a bizarre cult, Joffe replied, "Well, it'd be a very expensive response." The price tag of "There Be Dragons" is estimated at $30 million.
"'The Da Vinci Code' stands on its own legs, whatever they may be," he added. "I think they took a rather cliched view and created a character and said he came from Opus Dei, and that is a bit much. But it's a fine movie."
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