There Be Dragons

Whose side are you on?

Fascism or Communism?  Republican or Democrat?  Coke or Pepsi?  Team Edward or Team Jacob?  “A man has one duty, and that is to choose the winning side.”  But why make a movie about choices when you can make a drama about jealousy and religion?

Manolo’s (Wes Bentley) son Robert (Dougray Scott) is writing a book about the canonization of Josemaria (Charlie Cox).  Manolo and Josemaria were friends as children, but drifted apart because of their separate classes.  Manolo became a spy for the fascists and  Josemaria became a saintly priest.  As a spy, Manolo falls in love with Hungarian Ildiko (Olga Kurylenko), who is in love, in turn, with communist man hunk Oriol (Rodrigo Santoro).  Jealousy.

As a priest, Josemaria has to live like a Jew in Nazi Germany for fear of the communists (I think) murdering him because he represents the bourgeois (I guess).  He has to take confession at the zoo.  “Papers?” the militiaman asks.  Our saint is calm and composed and hands them  over docilely.  They move on.  Phew.

The request “Papers?” has a special resonance, doesn’t it?  It’s a bogeyman for Americans and British (and possibly others) that comes up whenever uniform identification schemes are rolled out.  I’m not sure where the fear comes from, but it’s probably just the damned impudence of the thing.  It’s the beginning of the end, don’t you understand?  Once they can ask for our identity, then they’ll just go on to…  Whatever, let’s talk about the movie.

There Be Dragons (2011) is directed by Roland Joffé.  It’s always a danger when the poster/DVD cover lists two movies made about thirty years ago.  That danger was realized here, I think.  Where’s the focus, what is the story, what is the point?  These are the main questions I have with the movie.

There are two main stories in this movie (and a minor third one).  One is the civil war and the other is where Josemaria is going at the moment.  I don’t like movies that juxtapose different stories.  I especially don’t like movies that deal with complicated scenarios and use them as a backdrop to something basic and personal.  This does both.  It adds to that a slightly annoying wrap-up that had to be given far too much time to build.

The Spanish Civil War, like many civil wars, is complicated.  It’s not good vs. evil.  It has added complications in being a proxy war and sneak preview for the Second World War.  This is where two of the three major ideologies of the period came into conflict.  What happened, what was it like, why was it complicated?  This movie’s answer is “things exploded,” “it was like a war,” and “because they shot priests.”

The fascists should not be the decent side in a movie.  Not because they shouldn’t have their say, but because we know that they weren’t.  But in this movie, all we get is nationalism against people who happen to wear red handkerchiefs around their necks.  Somehow, I sense there was more to it.

That’s script.  How about editing?  Did they at least accomplish their goal?  I couldn’t say.  What was their goal?  If it was to tell some stories, then yes there were stories told.  They weren’t told fully.  The one plot (Manolo) has almost nothing to do with the other plot (Josemaria).  I don’t know what happens to Josemaria after the war or what makes him a saint for canonization (rather than a very fine person).

Even saints have a past, the tagline reads.  Yes.  In the sense that they aren’t born from a beech tree.  But the implication is that Josemaria wasn’t quite as saintly as his resume may look.  Then the movie goes on to show that, yes, it is exactly as saintly as it looks.  Did I miss something there?

Performances.  They were fine.  Bentley probably put in the best performance, which is easy considering he’s the only one with a complicated motivation.  They weren’t really allowed to spend much time contemplating anything, but they were fine.    Much like the rest of the movie, in fact.

It was fine.  Annoyingly fine.  I just expected a lot more.

Oh, and I’m pretty sure there is either theft or recycling going on with this soundtrack.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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