A film ostensibly about the early life up until his 30s of St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, who was canonized in 2002 by Blessed John Paul II. There are only tangential references in the film to the lay apostolate founded by the saint in 1928, designed for Catholics to learn to sanctify themselves through their secular work. And not much about St. Josemaria’s early life and education. Today, Opus Dei has 90,000 members around the world with 2,000 priests, most of them deemed to be quite well educated and very influential in the Catholic Church.
The film tells the complex story of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) when hundreds of thousands of people in Spain were killed in a fraternal war between the conservative Nationalists backed by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany and the socialist and communist Republicans, backed by the Soviet Union (and lots of intellectuals and kindred souls from the U.S. and other European countries, motivated by the ravages of the Great Depression and the ensuing enthusiasm for revolution). During that war, when thousands of priests, nuns and other religious were singled out and killed, St. Josemaria’s role seemed to be somewhat fictionalized to help tell the complex story. But it’s an interesting story if you’re a history geek like me.
It’s a hard story to tell, but I thought that the Director, Roland Joffé, well know for his films, “The Mission” and “The Killing Fields”, did a great job on this complex film featuring love, faith, jealousy, revenge, civil war, family relationships, reconciliation and death. The cinematography and especially the combat scenes I thought were particularly good.
I’ve never known much about the Spanish Civil War, the practice event for World War II. The Germans tested their flying and bombing skills there to great effect. Picasso’s “Guernica” painting is world famous for depicting an early aerial bombing raid of an undefended city. The Russians tried to do that but at the same time, Stalin was purging most of the General Staff of the Soviet armed forces on manufactured grounds of treason. So it didn’t do them much good. Thus, the Spanish nationalists, under General Francisco Franco, ultimately defeated the Republicans supported by Stalin.
When I enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1964, one of the last things I had to do before I took an oath of loyalty to the United States and its Army, was to sign a disclosure sheet stating that I was not then nor ever had been a member of a list of a 100 or so organizations that I had never heard of. Anxious to avoid the draft and combat duty, I diligently plodded my way through the list, pondering each name and checking “no” and then moving on to the next. About halfway through the list, the officer in charge just said to us all, “You haven’t been in those groups, just check ‘no’ and give me the sheets!”. The only two names that I do recall from the list were, the “Abraham Lincoln Brigade”, later that I found out was the most significant American unit in the Spanish Civil War, and the “Chopin Cultural Society.” I never did find out what that was all about. But they both dated to the time of the Spanish Civil War. I passed, and did my four years.
Go see it. It’s good! The film probably won’t be around for long. I attended the 4:45 showing this afternoon and as I left, the cleanup crew seemed to be larger than the number of us who paid to see it. (I missed out on the free tickets that were floating around).
Here is an interesting interview from the National Catholic Register with a professor at Seton Hall University who worked for six years with St. Josemaria and the Opus Dei staff in the sixties: