there be dragons by r. joffe

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On 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

and Forgiveness

Interview With "There Be Dragons" Movie Director

Roland Joffé

By Jesús Colina

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There be Dragons, an interview with Roland Joffé 3

ROME, JAN. 1, 2011 ( 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


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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

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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

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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.

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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


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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

troubled world.

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.

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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

major question.

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.

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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

the table.

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.

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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."

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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?

Yes Father!

And our Lord of Nazareth, Jesus the Jew, Jesus the king of

all hearts, and all wills, will move your parents to let you

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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.

Yes Father!


Yes Father!

Love your parents a lot, agreed?

Yes Father!

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?

Yes Father!

You will be a good daughter of Christ, if you are a good

daughter to your parents.

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Appendix II Some useful links

About There be dragons, including trailer:

On Saint Josemaria

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About the conversation with the Jewish girl,

original version (Spanish):

Final remarks

This presentation can be found on:

CSR: Culture Science and Religion


CSR: Dragon

This presentation is edited by Alfred Driessen

[email protected]