Communicating Opus Dei Through Film

Interview With Spokesperson on “There Be Dragons”

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By Jesús Colina

ROME, MARCH 15, 2011 ( Marta Manzi has been working in communications for Opus Dei since 1992, but the release of a new film featuring its founder, St. Josemaría Escrivá, has added a new dimension.

The film “There Be Dragons,” set in the background of the Spanish Civil War, will be released on March 25 in Spain (and in May in the United States). St. Josemaría, founder of Opus Dei, is cast as one of the main characters. The film’s director, Roland Joffé, also directed films such as “The Mission” and “The Killing Fields.”

ZENIT interviewed Marta Manzi, who is in charge of media relations for the department of communications of Opus Dei in Rome, about the film.

A mother of seven children, Manzi is also a professor of at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. In addition, she collaborates with an Italian production company in the analysis of cinematographic scripts.

In this interview with ZENIT, Manzi describes her reaction to the film from the perspective of one who works inside the world of Opus Dei.

ZENIT: Did you like “There Be Dragons?” What was your first reaction to a film that presents the founder of the Opus Dei among its main characters?

Manzi: I learned much from the lucid look with which a film director, who says he is a non-believer, deals with questions related to the Christian faith and, more specifically, with the life of St. Josemaría and the origins of the Opus Dei. Joffé expresses very profound spiritual realities in an artistic way.

From the point of view of the cinema, I think it is a film rich in contents and emotions. Roland Joffé’s script speaks to everyone. Through the parallel lives of Josemaría Escrivá (Charlie Cox) and Manolo Torres (Wes Bentley), he captures attention and interpellates on matters such as love, fatherhood, the possibility of giving a different direction to life and, above all, a topic that seems a novelty in the present narrative: forgiveness.

It poses many questions so that, once the showing is finished, it is kept alive in the memory.

As a person who tries to communicate the reality of Opus Dei, I tell myself: Now it’s up to me to complete the picture, and to facilitate direct knowledge of the real saint and his message.

ZENIT: To what point is Roland Joffé’s portrait of St. Josemaría faithful to the reality?

Manzi: In my opinion, the film gives a convincing face to that priest whom I knew in his first writings of youth, such as “The Way” and “Holy Rosary.”

With his artistic approach, Joffé helps me to see, in a new way, the message I have tried to live for 40 years.

ZENIT: Hence, will Opus Dei collaborate in the diffusion of “There Be Dragons?”

Manzi: I know that the producers are showing it to bishops, priests and opinion leaders, who appreciate its message on the renewing force of forgiveness and the image it transmits of the priesthood, and they recommend it to others and also, of course, to persons of Opus Dei, and to numerous social and educational institutions that are inspired in St. Josemaría’s message.

The great majority have liked it a lot and they are promoting it with presentations, showings, debates on the film and other initiatives. However, there might be other members of the Opus Dei who were expecting something else of the film: There will probably be as many opinions and attitudes toward the film as there are persons in Opus Dei.

ZENIT: From your point of view, can it be said that the part referring to St. Josemaría is historically verifiable?

Manzi: The majority of events narrated on St. Josemaría correspond to documented episodes which, therefore, are verifiable; at the same time, it is clear that some of the situations and several of the characters with whom he interacts are creations of the director and the script writer.

It isn’t easy to portray a person in a two-hour film, and that is why it is necessary to engage in poetic license.

I will give you an example: young Josemaría did not accompany in his death the Jew Honorius who appears in the film (Derek Jacobi), but it is well documented that he was present at the death of numerous sick people in hospitals and suburbs of Madrid. Moreover, the words that the young priest says to Honorius are very similar to those he addressed to Jews that he met on his catechetical trips through countries of America: “I love the Jews very much” — he used to say, for example — “because I love Jesus Christ, who is Jewish, to the point of folly.”

One can see that behind every scene there is abundant documentation work on the part of the director and script writer.

Joffé himself said he tried to reflect the soul and ethos of Josemaría, and not so much the chronological history, though in fact he respects it in its main lines.

ZENIT: You knew the founder of Opus Dei personally. What memories did the Josemaría played by Charlie Cox bring?

Manzi: I am impressed that a 28-year-old English actor can remind me of the person I met at the end of the 60s.

Apart from his external features, his look and smile reflect correctly his strong and friendly character. And his naturalness: When one was with him, one felt as a child with a father.

He was little given to ceremony; one didn’t see him as “the founder” but as a priest who listened to you, who joked, who spoke of God and was close, as is also seen in the film.

In 1970, together with my husband, I asked him for advice on a personal dilemma: whether I should dedicate myself fully to the family or continue my career in the university. He answered me smiling, with a pleasant tone of reprimand: “You, Italians, at times want the priest to give you the answer to everything, and this priest is not going to give it to you, because certain questions fall only to the husband and wife, and to no one else.”

He loved liberty, and for each one to shoulder his own responsibility. I remembered this incident on seeing the answer he gives in the film when some young people ask him for a political orientation, and he does not give it to them and encourages then to use their God-given brain.

ZENIT: In the film, St. Josemaría helps to overcome the conflicts and hatred of the time, during the Spanish war, something which must not have been easy, taking into account the persecution to which priests and religious were subjected.

Manzi: I think Joffé’s film reflects Josemaría Escrivá’s experience during the Civil War in Spain: a profound sorrow for the attacks on priests, religious and ordinary Christians who suffered persecution, together with a lively consciousness that not even in those tragic circumstances should one give way to hatred or vengeance.

After the experience of the war, St. Josemaría wrote: “Never raise a cross only to remember that some have killed others. It would be the devil’s standard. The cross of Christ is to be silent, to forgive and to pray for one another so that all will attain peace.”

Numerous are the written testimonies of that time that show how his preaching always maintained an attitude of forgiveness and acceptance of all persons.

To the young people who followed him in those years he did not give a program of social or political reforms. Some did not understand this attitude and they left him.

ZENIT: What has been Opus Dei’s relationship with the makers of the film? Has it cooperated with them? Has the prelature had some economic participation?

Manzi: In 2007 and 2008, the director and producers of this film came to Rome several times, to seek historical advice, to talk to people who knew St. Josemaría, to visit the places where he lived, etc.

The office of communications helped them as much as it could, as we usually do with those who take the trouble to go to the sources. Since then, we have given them photographs, audiovisual material and other documents, and we have tried to answer all their questions.

In regards to the financing, the producers said
they brought together several television companies and a fund of risk capital with something more than 100 investors, among whom are some persons of Opus Dei, as they themselves have said, and some who are non-believers, such as Joffé himself.

The prelature does not take part in this type of project: the persons of Opus Dei that have taken part in it acted on their own as professionals.

ZENIT: There are some who interpret this film as a response to “The Da Vinci Code.” Is there some truth in it?

Manzi: You would have to ask Roland Joffé and the producers. On the part of the office of communications of Opus Dei, “The Da Vinci Code” led us to develop widespread informative action that we closed in 2006: Trying not to lose our good humor, we tried to clarify the confusion sowed about the Catholic Church, about the person of Christ and about Opus Dei.

ZENIT: Do you think non-Catholics and non-believers will like the film?

Manzi: There are messages and persons that, precisely because they are Catholics, are universal.

I am now thinking of John Paul II: Shortly — in his forthcoming beatification — we will see an impressive manifestation of the positive impact of the saints in the lives of many people.

In my opinion, a film like this one can touch many hearts because it addresses topics that are not proper to believers or non-believers, to the left or the right: sorrow, evil, loneliness, rejection — these are topics that affect all of us.

ZENIT: What would you advise a person who hears talk for the first time of St. Josemaría and who wants to have a real idea of him?

Manzi: I would advise him in the first place to go directly to his homilies and his books of meditation such as “The Way,” “Furrow” and “The Forge;” through them many persons have approached Jesus Christ.

And I would encourage him to visit the Web page, in which he will find many resources. There is also a channel with videos:

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