The other day, my friend, who is a fan of fantasy films got this movie called, There Be Dragons. It’s a new film, released this May, and we had never heard of it. My friends thought it would be about dragons. There has been a lot of dragon movies recently, including my friend’s favourite, How to Train Your Dragon (2010).
But There Be Dragons is not remotely about dragons or fantasy. If it is a fantasy, it is a fantasy of different kind. Then, to my surprise, I discovered that the film is directed by Roland Joffe. I was under the impression that after Captivity (2007), he was not doing anything other than working on India-themed Singularity (which was earlier called something else and supposed to star Vivek Oberoi; now it stars Josh Hartnett and Bipasha Basu as star-crossed lovers in British India, with loads of reincarnation masala thrown in; like Hindi films, Prem and Ab Ke Baras... You know, lovers reborn and re-meet). Last year, he did a film called You and I and here is There Be Dragons, which was criticised badly, and just disappeared from the scene. Which is a shame really, because, it’s a good movie, far, far better than a regular Hollywood film, even if you don’t agree with everything going on there.
Apparently, the producers wanted Joffe to make a film on Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of the controversial church organisation 'Opus Dei', much maligned in the Dan Brown novel, The Da Vinci Code, who was cannonised as saint in 2002. However, the film is not a bio-pic of the saint, and this perhaps is one of its drawbacks.
And, this is also one of its strengths, since biopic of a saint is not really an adventurous theme.
So, we have a fictional character, Monolo Torres, who is contrasted with Josemaría Escrivá. If Escrivá is good, Torres is the epitome of evil, and the film, more than looking at Josemaría Escrivá’s rise to sainthood, looks at how Monolo Torres finds his redemption.
A Spanish born-London-based journalist Roberto is commissioned to write a book on Josemaría Escrivá, who has been beatified to be cannonised. While researching on the book, he discovers that his father, who was soldier in the Spanish Civil War, was a childhood friend of Escrivá. But Roberto hasn’t talked to his father in 8 years, and his father has denied his attempts to reconciliation. After few more calls, Monolo Torres, Roberto’s father, decides to talk about Escrivá, on a tape, to be sent to his son.
And, we go to flashbacks and meet Geraldine Chaplin as the grandmother who tells the stories of dragons. As the story progresses, however, more than Escrivá’s rise to sainthood we see the vile Monolo and his fascist plans, his jealousies and his betrayals. He joins the rebels as a spy, falls in love with a Hungarian woman, is spurned, and then kills her.
Oh, did I reveals the plot. Not at all. The plot is more complicated, as it becomes a war movie, family drama and a film about faith and friendship, all rolled in one.
There Be Dragons may not be in the same leagues as Joffe’s earlier films, The Killing Fields or The Mission, yet it is better film than it is credited.
Wikipedia tells me: The title refers to its theme exploring the unknown territories of hatred, guilt, and forgiveness, said the producer Ignacio G. Sancha. "There be dragons" is a shorter version of the phrase "here there be dragons" from the Latin hic sunt dracones, an ancient way of denoting in maps a place where there is danger, or an unknown place, a place to be explored.
More on There Be Dragons here.
More on Saint Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer here.
More on Roland Joffe here.
The Hollywood Reporter Review here.