Monday, July 30, 2012

The Reign in Spain, Part I

We have watched at least three movies that take place in Spain lately. This wasn't something that was planned. I didn't even realize that it had happened until we were watching the last one. While the three movies are very different, there are some similarities: two take place during the Spanish Civil War, two tell the story of fathers and sons who are estranged, all of them are informed by grace.

One was There Be Dragons, which I've had lying next to the TV for a long time--months. I got the movie from Netflix because I thought I ought, and although I've been disappointed in so many "Catholic" movies. I kept waiting to be in the right frame of mind to watch it, and then I read some really bad reviews, well, I guess what I really read were people talking about really bad reviews, and so I put it off even longer, but when my youngest daughter was home last month, and she said it was pretty good, I decided to give it a try. What I expected was hagiography and found very little of that, mostly because it wasn't so much a biography of Josemaria Escrivá as it was a portrayal of the culture of Life versus the culture of Death.

It begins from the point of view of Robert Torres, a journalist who is writing a book about Escrivá, and who has returned to Spain to visit his estranged father, Manolo, who grew up in the same village as Escrivá. Soon, we are hearing the story in Manolo's voice. Manolo and Josemaria were friends when they were boys. Manolo was the son of a wealthy man, and Josemaria's father owned a chocolate factory, but thankfully was nothing like Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp. The friendship ends when Josemaria's father loses the factory, and from there the boys follow two rapidly diverging paths: one which leads to a selfishly misguided love, war, and death, and the other to the selfless love that always brings life.

I don't know how accurate the portrayal of Josemaria Escrivá is, because I really don't know much about him except that he founded Opus Dei. I liked him better than I thought I would. I read a bit of The Way, and found it joyless, but maybe I haven't read enough of his writing to make a fair judgement. If anything, the movie has made me want to read more. The one thing I know about Opus Dei is that the one person I know who is a member is absolutely delightful.

And speaking of The Way, another movie that we watched was this chronicle of the pilgrimage of Tom Avery (Martin Sheen) on the Camino de Santiago. Like Manolo, Tom is estranged from his son Daniel (Emilio Estevez). The breach occurred when Daniel decided to abandon his studies for his Masters degree in Archaeology? Anthropology?, something like that, and go out to really experience the countries he had been studying. As the movie begins, Tom receives a call from France saying that Daniel has died in the Pyrenees at the beginning of his pilgrimage on the Camino. Tom goes to collect the body, and instead ends up making the pilgrimage for Daniel, carrying Daniel's ashes in a box and leaving them along the way. 

Along the way, Tom meets a young Danish man, Yoost, who ostensibly is walking the Camino in order to lose weight before a wedding. Yoost is like a large, tactless puppy dog who, much to Tom's dismay, attaches himself firmly to Tom for the rest of the pilgrimage. Further on they meet Sarah, a woman who is carrying a heavy burden of her own, and Jack, a travel writer who is writing a book about the Camino. As the movie progresses, we learn more about them, and the rest of their story, while engaging and well-presented, moves on to a fairly predictable end.

But the real star of this movie is the Camino de Santiago. It seemed that way to me, and when I was looking on Wikipedia to make sure of the characters' names, I saw that this was true. In a way, it's documentary or travelogue dressed like a movie, but it's done so professionally and so well that the viewer is rarely aware of the fact. There are a couple of times when it's obvious, for instance when the Captain who is returning Daniel's belongings to Tom displays the pilgrim's passport and explains it in detail, but usually this is not the case. The viewer travels along the Camino through mountains and fields, across lovely little bridges. He learns about aubergues and sees the towns along the way. My one objection is that the movie doesn't really give one an idea of the physical difficulty of the pilgrimage, and I think that this might be a disservice to those who are lured to the Camino by the beauty of the film.

There is not a great deal of talk about faith or grace in the movie but there is enough, I think, and it is evident in the struggles of the characters. And, of course, there is the arrival at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where none of the four companions are left unmoved, and it must be very moving to put your hand into the deep handprint left by thousands and thousands of pilgrims over hundreds of years or to watch this.

I was very moved by the whole movie. I think I cried my way through most of it, but that just might have to do with its connection to my own current sense that I am on some sort of pilgrimage. I'm afraid that in saying that the movie is really a travelogue, it sounds like I am somehow demeaning it, but I'm not. I would recommend this movie to anyone.

I was going to include the third movie here, but I think this post is long enough, and it might take me a while to write the next part, so I thought I'd go ahead and post this much today.



  1. As a former movie reviwer (something rushing towards 50 years ago), I realized that movie reviews are only suggestions.

    Only by watching the complete movie is one able to judge the accuracy of the review.

  2. I'm going to go ahead and buy the Dragons movie.

    The Way brought a lot of very different people onto the camino - I met many people, mainly Americans, who said, somewhat shamefacedly, that they came as a result of seeing The Way. So whether it's a good movie or not, it has had an effect. Grumpy

  3. Well, I don't know if I'd buy it. It's not great, but I think it's worth watching. I don't want to mislead.

    I was talking to Craig on his blog about how there has to be grace available by the bucketful on that pilgrimage no matter why you go and even if you aren't aware of it at the time, it might visit you later on in your life.