there be dragons by r. joffe
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DESCRIPTIONOn January 1, 2011, the news agency Zenit published an interview with Roland Joffé, the director of the forthcoming movie "There will be dragons". The movie is set during the Spanish Civil War and features themes such as saintliness and betrayal, love and hatred, forgiveness and violence, and finding meaning in everyday life. Joffé explains in some detail the role of Saint Josemaria as one of the principal characters in this movie.
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There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 2
St. Josemaría Escrivá, Civil War
Interview With "There Be Dragons" Movie Director
By Jesús Colina
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 3
ROME, JAN. 1, 2011 (Zenit.org).- This
Spring, a movie will be released that will
feature as one of the leading characters St.
Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei, with
themes of war, love and forgiveness.
ZENIT spoke with Roland Joffé, the director
of the new movie, "There Be Dragons," who
is also known for directing the films "The
Mission" and "The Killing Fields."
The forthcoming movie is set during the
Spanish Civil War and features themes such
as saintliness and betrayal, love and hatred,
forgiveness and violence, and finding
meaning in everyday life.
ZENIT interviewed Joffé at the beginning of
this year that marks 75 years since the
outbreak of the war, about the story behind
this film and the highlights an audience can
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 4
ZENIT: What does the title -- "There Be
Dragons" -- refer to?
Joffé: Medieval maps labeled unknown territory with the
words "Hic sunt dragones" -- "here be dragons."
Because I didn't really know what was coming next when I
started, researching and writing this screenplay, or how it
would quite end, "There Be Dragons" seems like a very apt
title -- I was going a little off my map into unchartered
territory, into themes of what saintliness might be, themes
of religion and twentieth century politics and into the past
of another country.
I was struck by Josemaría's statement that God is found in
"everyday life," and that everyday life, in his case, was the
Spanish Civil War.
I wondered: How could one find the divine in war? But
then the same question can be asked of all the fundamental
challenges in life, and how we face them: How we respond
to hatred and rejection, or the desire for revenge and
justice -- all those dilemmas are heightened in wartime.
Those dilemmas are, in a sense, the "dragons" of the film -
- turning points in our lives where we're faced with potent
choices, choices that are going to affect our future.
"There Be Dragons" is about the very different choices that
people take at those turning-points -- temptations, if you
like -- and how hard it is, and yet how necessary, to escape
cycles of hatred and resentment and violence.
Charlie Cox as Saint Josemaria
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 5
ZENIT: The movie is set in the context of the
Spanish Civil War, which is in a certain sense
the paradigm for violence that leads to more
violence, and violence that makes no sense.
Faced with a scene such as this one -- a scene
of fratricidal violence -- is there room for
Joffé: Yes -- but it's extremely hard. So many horrible,
horrendous acts between people seem unforgivable,
unredeemable, impossible to move beyond.
But forgiveness is possible! Cycles of violence can be
halted, as President Mandela demonstrated in South
Africa. Forgiveness has been possible for many heroic
people in Rwanda, and offered and taken by many brave
Palestinians and Israelis.
Josemaría also claimed that ordinary people were quite
capable of being saints -- and I think this kind of heroic
forgiveness is what he was talking about.
The inexhaustible possibility of forgiveness is what offers
room for hope. But the price is high: It takes a deep sense
of what it is to be fully human, a deep feeling for
compassion -- and a firm, individual, and yes, heroic
resolve not to be caught up in prevailing hatreds, but to
fight them with unremitting love.
Saint Josemaria in 1939
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 6
Most of the action in the movie takes place during the
Spanish Civil War, but it flips between that backdrop and
Wes Bentley as Manolo
There are many generations involved in this story: The
past casts a shadow over the present. What connects them
is Robert, a journalist asked to do a story about Josemaría
Escrivá at the time of his beatification. He discovers that
his father Manolo was a childhood friend of Josemaría's,
and was in the seminary with him -- though their lives took
dramatically different paths. Robert and Manolo are
estranged, but the film brings them together at the same
time as the terrible truth about the past is revealed.
So this is also about a father and a son, and the truth that
needs to be faced in order to overcome what is between
This is very much a movie about love, about the strength
of its presence and the arid and terrifying world that we
inhabit in its absence.
Civil wars are most appalling because they pit brother
against brother, family against family. By the end of the
Spanish Civil War, half a million people had died.
A civil war is a powerful metaphor for a family. As in civil
wars, family members take sides and split up; old
resentments become sources of hatred. We don't forgive
our aunt for doing this, we don't speak to our father
because he left our mother, we don't speak to our mother
because she went off with a man, or we don't speak to our
son because he chose a different profession than what we
expected. Those are the civil wars of our everyday lives.
"There Be Dragons" is about both kinds of civil war.
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 7
Essentially we've all got to choose whether to hang on to
our resentments or find a way of conquering them.
Life can be seen as a series of injustices, of rejections and
hurts, or as full of opportunities, of chances to conquer
those dragons through the overwhelming desire to replace
hatred with love and connection.
Many people have it in them to make that heroic choice.
They realize that they can make a choice to be free. They
have the strength of character to understand that hate is a
No one who hates can be free. Haven't we seen so many
examples of this in the years since the First World War?
On the other hand, when people choose to love, the
impartial observer can feel it in them -- the sense of
freedom, of compassion, of giving.
Finally, we all face this choice. Even Robert, the agnostic
and materialist, is asked to choose between love and hate --
to, in a sense, fight the world with love, or as Aline puts it,
"to fight God with love."
So this is what this movie is about for me. Forgiveness
unlocks what's been frozen. It touches everything human
inside the one who is forgiven as it touches everything
human in the one who forgives.
Love doesn't, cannot, always come easily. It can't come
with a sense of superiority; it can only come with a sense
of humility and shared humanity. And yet it has a powerful
beauty. It says: "Yes, step out of yourself. You think you
can't forgive?" Well, you won't know if you can forgive
until you've done it.
And how do you forgive? You forgive by empathizing.
You forgive by being that other person. By abandoning
demonization, by not saying, "I'm better than that person, I
could never do that," but by looking at that person and
saying, "That could be me."
So yes, there is room for hope -- even in the most painful,
tragic and appalling circumstances, where hope seems
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 8
ZENIT: Does this movie speak to believers,
or to nonbelievers?
Joffé: "There Be Dragons" takes faith seriously.
It takes sainthood seriously. But its appeal goes well
beyond a religious audience.
The question presupposes a separation that is actually
phony. We all live in a troubled world; we all deal with the
pain and joy of everyday life, and though we may bring
different interpretations of reality to bear on this
experience, we all in the end inhabit the same torn and
This is a film about believers and non-believers. I was
deeply touched by Josemaría's sense that we are all
potential saints, his belief that everyone was finally
capable of slaying their own dragons.
I hope people watching the film will see in it their own
struggles with their own dragons, and recognize his point
that no saint ever became a saint without struggle.
The film is also about many forms of love. Ildiko's love for
Oriol is a particular kind of love. Her love for making a
better world is another kind of love. Manolo's love for
Ildiko is yet another type of love, even though it's bound
up with jealousy and resentment. The love that Manolo
craves and eventually receives is again another very
particular kind of love.
These different kinds of love all come together like a
spider's web of individual threads, and each thread seems
separate, but then the realization dawns that they are all
part of a greater whole, attached to the same thing, and
leading to the same point, to the same center.
Olga Kurylenko as Ildiko
In the end, all these different strands of love that look so
different will come back to one fundamental point: "Is this
love greater than my self-love?" That's a rich question.
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 9
And much politics of the early twentieth century was
engaged in it.
However, it poses yet another question of deeper
complexity. If this passionate love is based on an ideal, or
on an idealization, if it is accepting of only one model of
human behavior, how does it avoid sliding into bigotry or
demonization? Since the Enlightenment this has been a
In the cause of the love of the greater good, many acts of
gross humanity have been committed. It seems to me that
only by understanding the tragic fallibility of all human
beings and all human endeavors can we find a path to
understanding and that deep empathy, that sense of
oneness with others, that offers freedom from
demonization and cycles of unredeemed violence.
This is not a Catholic movie, but it's about a key theme in
Christian theology and in all Christian churches, as well as
in many other religions.
All religions understand that human beings, in their
relationships with each other, play out divine choices --
choices that profoundly affect others and the world around
them. That interconnectedness is the basis of love -- what
we do for or against others affects us and them because we
are all bound together.
ZENIT: How much of the character of
Josémaría Escrivá, who is now a saint in the
Catholic Church, is based on fact, and how
much is based on fiction?
Joffé: Of all the characters in the movie, Josemaría is the
only one that existed in history, the only one about whom
there are plenty of records and evidence.
I believe that the representation of Josemaría that we have
in terms of his kind of lovingness, his sense of humor --
which undoubtedly he had -- was brought out by the events
of his life and that it's actually very close to who he really
I wanted to find an honest viewpoint in portraying his
character, and to take his faith at face value, as he did. I
suppose the convention with saints is to see them, in weird
opposition to the whore with the heart of gold, as men with
hearts of lead; but that's just a comfortable convention.
In fact Josemaría's story is that of a man who goes through
the extraordinary step of simplifying his life around a pure
and powerful love for God. This love for God becomes an
organizing principle that gives him a shape and a kind of
simplicity and strength.
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 10
Rodrigo Santoro as Oriol
But that doesn't make him dull or flat, because this love
existed in the real world, and the fruit of that existence in
the real, often cruel, harsh world, must for any honest man
be doubt: doubt in God and doubt in goodness. This doubt
is deeply, profoundly fertile.
Love is not spoon-fed to us, as a sine qua non. It has to be
fought for. It's what we as human beings have to bring to
We have to find this love deep within ourselves,
understanding the dark beauty of our own and other
people's frailty. In a profound sense that seems to me to be
what the story of Christ demonstrates.
If we are believers we still have to find this love deep in
ourselves and offer it to God and his rich creation. If we
are not believers we must still find it and offer it to other
human beings regardless of politics or race or religion.
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 11
ZENIT: Did you have previous ideas about
how to represent the Spanish Civil War, or
some of the characters, such as St. Josemaría
Joffé: I didn't know much about Josemaría before I was
asked to film the movie.
What actually happened was that at one point one of the
producers of the movie had come to Holland to persuade
me to the do the movie. And he brought various books and
materials with him that included a DVD of Josemaría.
We had a very, very nice dinner together, and I walked
home thinking: "I don't really want to do this. I've got
another project that I really want to do that is set in India
and I've worked a long time to get this ready." In other
words, I was thinking that it was a very, very nice offer
and I really appreciated the meal, but I should say no.
It was a summer evening so I went into the garden, had a
glass of white wine, put the DVD into my DVD player,
and sat at my computer to type a little letter saying: "Dear
X, thank you so much. I appreciate that you've come all
this way, but I really think you should look somewhere
In the background, however, the DVD was playing and a
moment in the story catches my eye, which is Josemaría
addressing a large group of people, maybe in Chile, or
Argentina, I'm actually not sure where it was, and a girl
raises her hand and says, "I've got a question to ask."
The Jewish girl mentioned by Joffé asking her question (July 5, 1974 in Chile)
And Josemaría says, "Yes, please."
And she says, "I'd like to convert to Christianity."
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 12
And he says, "Yes?"
And she says, "But my parents are Jewish and they are not
very happy about the idea."
Josemaría, without batting an eyelid, says: "Oh my dear,
no, no, honoring your parents is very, very dear to God.
God doesn't ask you to dishonor your parents, make your
parents unhappy. Absolutely not! What you feel in your
heart is what you feel in your heart. No, no, no, don't upset
your parents -- don't make your parents feel bad. There's
absolutely no need for that."
I looked at that moment in the video and I thought to
myself: "What a wonderful moment. What a kind of
unexpected and wonderful moment, particularly from an
organization which everybody thinks it's bound to say the
I looked at my computer and I thought, "Wait a minute." I
turned the DVD off. I stopped the letter. I went into my
screenplay mode and I wrote a scene where Josemaría
meets a man who's dying, who he knows from before, who
tells him he's Jewish and thinking of converting.
I wrote the whole scene, all the while thinking: "I really
want to see that in a film. But I'm never going to see it in a
film if I don't do this film, am I? Where would it fit into
any other film?"
Saint Josemaria answering the question of the Jewish girl (July 5, 1974 in Chile)
Instead of the first letter I was going to write, I wrote
instead: "Dear X, I'm really interested in doing this project,
providing I'm left to follow my own devices, and you're
not expecting me to follow any party lines, and if you
accept the fact that I'm not very bright and I'll do the best I
can, but I have to follow my own truth. If that's okay, I
would really love to do this project."
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 13
That is pretty much what happened. I had no real
preconceptions of Josemaría, some knowledge of course,
but mostly I had this moment I experienced with the DVD
that sparked my interest in doing the movie.
I was presented with a story about a man that I read, and
realized I really respected this man. In fact, more than
simply respecting him, I felt that that he enshrined
something in his struggle that would speak to all human
beings in a rather wonderful way, and that's the story I
wanted to tell, and that's what the movie is about.
The Spanish Civil War, of course, was equally complex to
deal with. It would have been easy to take sides, but that
would have betrayed the central thrust of the way that I
wanted to tell this story.
History is notoriously partisan, written by the victors and
rewritten by the vanquished. Many will simply believe the
rumor or myth that they find most palatable and I am sure
we're going to battle some opinions about what Opus Dei
is or was, about who Josemaría was, and what the Spanish
Civil War was really "about."
I wanted to show what was going on in Spain during the
civil war without partisanship. In fact Spain was going
through, in a very condensed period of time, something
that Britain, for instance, had been through and absorbed
for a hundred years.
A scene from the movie
Industrial revolution, stark class ideologies, plus in Spain
loss of empire and economic instability -- in Spain things
were drawn starkly, more in black and white. It was
actually very easy for Spanish society to fracture and very
easy -- in the thinking of the time -- to take ultimate and
utterly opposing views about social justice, the role of the
Church, and so on.
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 14
Eventually, as is the nature of these social tensions, the
more extreme views started tugging the others apart. As
the center weakened, the two opposing poles began to get
Both sides in the Spanish Civil War had ideals and a sense
of their own virtue. In common with similar political
movements in the rest of Europe, people on both sides of
the political divide began to demonize the other.
But what in Europe became national divides in Spain
remained fratricidal and left psychological scars that are
deep and hard to heal. What was happening in Spain was
wounding and complicated and really split families in a
most painful and harrowing way.
Brother chose differently to brother, but does that mean
they're no longer brothers? If it does mean they are no
longer brothers -- if we're willing to kill our brothers for
the sake of what we believe -- then what does that ask
about the value of our choices?
ZENIT: Did working on this film influence
you somehow in your personal life?
Joffé: Let me answer the question in the following way:
I'm not really very religious but I was asked to write about
a man who was.
I had to take a step back and say: "When I write about
Josemaría, I must take at face value -- utterly, honestly,
and truthfully -- everything that Josemaría is telling me he
stood for, that his life was about, and that his religious
experience was about. I must read about religious
experience without prejudice, honestly; and just let it look
at me in the face."
I read a lot about religious experience. I was moved and
delighted to find how many scientists ( in particular
physicists) were deeply involved in experiencing God, and
I was moved to find that the divide between science and
religion that has become so much the current thinking of
our time was in fact false.
I came to understand the great discovery of modern
physics that our sense of reality is based on the models of
it we make in our brains, but that there are therefore many
models of reality.
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 15
Many of them are insufficient to explain all things, but
suitable to explain some; they offer us a new way of
understanding what in fact reality or realities may be and
that this understanding in no way precludes the idea of
God or a spiritual dimension to the grand universe that we
inhabit, but rather that the way that science has led us to
redefine and reinterpret what is real offers us also a chance
to reinterpret and redefine the spiritual.
I probably won't know for a few years how this experience
has affected me. I think something profound takes a little
bit of time to reveal itself for what it really is.
Therefore, I found a very odd thing out of filming "There
Be Dragons," which is that, rather than this being a lonely
experience, which I thought it might be, I found it
extremely engaging and not lonely at all.
To suddenly think, "Well let me lay aside my simple
answers and just live with the question," was to me
wonderfully compelling and made me feel very, very close
to this process of living in a way I don't think I've felt
before. And I'm not sure now where that might lead.
Appendix I A translation of the dialogue mentioned by
Joffé of the Jewish girl with Saint Josemaria
on July 5, 1974, Tabancura, Santiago de
Jewish girl: Father, I am Jewish, but I believe in the
catholic religion. I would like, my most fervent desire is to
be converted to Catholicism, but I am a minor, and my
parents wouldn't let me.
Saint Josemaria Look I am going to tell you something
that will make you very happy, I - and I learnt it from this
son of mine here - I have to tell you that the greatest love
of my life is Jewish, Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, of your race.
And the second is Mary most holy, virgin and mother,
mother of that Jewish boy, my mother and yours. Do you
like that? Then I tell you to be very good with your
parents, to be patient, to pray. Don't show any sign of
rebellion. Is that clear?
And our Lord of Nazareth, Jesus the Jew, Jesus the king of
all hearts, and all wills, will move your parents to let you
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 16
calmly and serenely follow the way you have already
found hidden in your soul, that vita abscondita cum
Christo in Deo, Allright?
Saint Josemaria during the get-together on July 5, 1974 in Chile.
Love your parents a lot, agreed?
And in the mean time, learn the doctrine of Jesus Christ,
and pray, pray my daughter, Your baptism of desire, you
have it already. Pray, and never a word of criticism of your
parents. Because that is quite clear, you have to love them
with all your heart, and show it with deeds, agreed?
You will be a good daughter of Christ, if you are a good
daughter to your parents.
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 17
Appendix II Some useful links
About There be dragons, including trailer:
On Saint Josemaria
There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 18
About the conversation with the Jewish girl,
original version (Spanish):
This presentation can be found on:
CSR: Culture Science and Religion
This presentation is edited by Alfred Driessen