There Be Dragons – But not in the literal sense
There Be dragons is a drama mostly set during the Spanish Civil War that follows three separate narratives:
First, there is the story of Josemaría Escrivá. The film follows him from the early days of his childhood, through his time in the seminary, to his founding of Opus Dei and through the Spanish Civil War, a period during which religious were persecuted and killed in the streets.
Second is the story of Manolo, Josemaría Escrivá’s childhood friend. Manolo and Escrivá grow apart over the years until eventually their narratives take completely different directions. Manolo joins the National Faction (Fascists) and becomes a spy for them by enlisting with the Republican Faction (Communists) in order to spy on them. In my opinion, this is the most interesting of the three narratives.
The third narrative occurs after Jose Maria Escriva’s death and follows Robert, a journalist writing about the deceased priest. Robert also happens to be Manolo’s estranged son. The drama in the third narrative is nothing special. The third narrative is really nothing more than a framing device for the other two stories.
This film has been largely sold as a film about Josemaría Escrivá, but he definitely is not the only focus of this film. In fact, there were a lot of details about Escrivá’s work that were left untouched on, such as what Opus Dei actually does. Escrivá does say that his new organization teaches that ordinary human life is the path to sanctity, but the film doesn’t really go over the activities of the organization to any great depth.
(For those of you who read The Da Vinci Code, I hate to disappoint you, but Opus Dei is not an evil assassin organization. I have met my fair share of Opus Dei members, and I can assure you that they do not go around killing people. No matter how cool it would be if the Roman Catholic Church has its own religious black-ops, it does not make it true.)
The film has some very impressive artistic direction. The cinematography is very well done. The sets and costumes are pretty good too. A lot of thought went into how this film would end up looking and the end result was not disappointing.
At times the film reminded me of Citizen Kane. Kane and Dragons have several similarities. They are both non-linear narratives framed within a story about Journalists trying to uncover the truth about the historical figures they are investigating (Kane wasn’t real, but Hearst, the man he was based on, was). They both offer some very creative cinematography. Both films suffered from very limited releases on their opening. However, There Be Dragons is not Citizen Kane.
The film had many good qualities, but it also had its share of shortcomings. One of the things that bugged me the most was the title. They make attempts to talk about the title within the film, but it all seems a little bit flimsy. The acting feels uneven; some performances were better than others. As mentioned earlier, the film’s framing narrative is a bit weak.
I’d have talked more about the film’s ideology, but I think that how you view this film really depends on your own worldview. The ideology of the film is not as force-fed as Avatar’s environmentalist anti-military ideology, but it’s still there. If you hate the Catholic Church and what it stands for, then you might not want to see a film that gives a positive portrayal of religious. If you’re a Catholic and sick and tired of negative portrayals of religious, then you’ll probably enjoy this film a lot.
All in all, There Be Dragons is an interesting film and its qualities outweigh its shortcomings.