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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Some films for the Pope

I saw a news story today .... Anger at Pope's Brazil comments / BBC ... Pope Benedict XVI told Latin American bishops in Brazil that American Indians had been "silently longing" to become Christians 500 years ago ..... Pope Benedict also made no mention of the violent history that followed or the documented decimation of native cultures in favour of the Christian model Conquistadores and other Europeans colonisers ...

I wish the Pope hadn't failed to comment on the coercion sometimes used and the damage sometimes done in the preaching of the Gospel to cultures vulnerable to aggression or manipulation. I just happen to have some illustrative materials .... don't worry, I won't cite any dusty tomes, just three films :-), one portraying the time of the first Conquistadors to the New World, one of missionning in the 18th century, and one set in modern times. Though it may sound strange, I think sometimes fiction can give us a more profound vision of the truth than can the facts.

1) Aguirre, the Wrath of God .....

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (German: Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes) is an independent 1972 German film written and directed by Werner Herzog. Klaus Kinski stars in the title role .....

The story follows the travels of Lope de Aguirre, who leads a group of conquistadores down the Amazon River in South America in search of a lost city of gold (El Dorado). Using a minimalist story and dialogue and the powerful acting of Kinski, the film creates a vision of madness and folly, counterpointed by the lush but unforgiving Amazonian jungle. Although based loosely on what is known of the historical figure of Aguirre, the film's story line is, as Herzog acknowledged years after the film's release, a work of imagination. Some of the persons and situations may have been inspired by Gaspar de Carvajal's account of an earlier Amazonian expedition, but Carvajal was not present on the historical voyage represented in the film .....
- Wikipedia

Roger Ebert has called this film one of the 100 greatest films ever made. Here below is the opening of his review of it ...

" On this river God never finished his creation. The captured Indian speaks solemnly to the last remnants of a Spanish expedition seeking the fabled El Dorado, the city of gold. A padre hands him a Bible, “the word of God.'' He holds it to his ear but can hear nothing. Around his neck hangs a golden bauble. The Spanish rip it from him and hold it before their eyes, mesmerized by the hope that now, finally, at last, El Dorado must be at hand. “Where is the city?'' they cry at the Indian, using their slave as an interpreter. He waves his hand vaguely at the river. It is further. Always further ... "

2) The Mission .....

The Mission is a 1986 British film about the experiences of a Jesuit missionary in eighteenth century South America. The film was written by Robert Bolt and directed by Roland Joffé. It stars Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally, Aidan Quinn, Cherie Lunghi and Liam Neeson. It won the Palme d'Or in Cannes 1986, and an Oscar for Best Cinematography. In March 2007 it was Number 1 in the Church Times Top 50 Religious Films. The music was scored by the renowned Italian composer Ennio Morricone, and is considered by some to be among his best film scores, being listed at #23 on AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores ......

The movie is set during the Jesuit Reductions, a programme by which Jesuit missionaries set up missions independent of the Spanish state to teach Christianity to the natives. It tells the story of a Spanish Jesuit priest, Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons), who enters the South American jungle to build a mission and convert a community of Guaraní Indians to Christianity .....

"The Mission" is based on events surrounding the Treaty of Madrid in 1750, in which Spain ceded part of Jesuit Paraguay to Portugal. The movie's narrator, "Altamirano", speaking in hindsight in 1758, corresponds to the actual Andalusian Jesuit Father Luis Altamirano, who had been sent to Paraguay in 1752 to transfer territory from Spain to Portugal. He oversaw the transfer of seven missions south and east of the Río Uruguay, that had been settled by Guaranis and Jesuits in the 1600s. As "compensation", Spain had promised each mission 4,000 pesos, or fewer than 1 peso for each of the circa 30,000 Guaranis of the seven missions, while the cultivated lands, livestock and buildings were estimated to be worth 7-16 million pesos. The movie's climax is the Guarani War of 1754-1756, during which historical Guaranis defended their homes against Spanish-Portuguese forces implementing the Treaty of Madrid. For the movie, a recreation was made of one of the seven missions, São Miguel das Missões.
- Wikipedia

3) At Play in the Fields of the Lord .....

At Play in the Fields of the Lord is a 1991 drama film directed by Hector Babenco. The screenplay was written by Babenco and Jean-Claude Carrière, and based on the novel by Peter Matthiessen. It stars Tom Berenger, Aidan Quinn, Kathy Bates, Daryl Hannah, John Lithgow and Tom Waits.

The films tells of Americans Lewis Moon (Tom Berenger) and Wolf (Tom Waits) who, when their plane runs out of gas, are stranded in Mae de Deus an outpost in the deep Brazilian Amazon River basin. Living in the village are evangelist missionary Leslie Huben (John Lithgow) and his wife Andy Huben (Darryl Hannah); and Martin Quarier(Aidan Quinn), his wife Hazel (Kathy Bates) and their small son, who have just arrived from the United States.

The minister and the Quarrier's want to spread the Christian gospel to the primitive Niaruna indigenous natives, the others have more nefarious interests, to wit: business concerns that would lay claim to the Niaruna's land for business development. The local police chief cuts a deal with mercenaries Lewis and Wolf: if they bomb the Niarunas and eliminated them, they will be paid enough money to leave Brazil. Instead, Lewis, a half Native American Cheyenne, aligns himself with the Niarunas. From this moment on, both are in trouble ....
- Wikipedia

Here below is the beginning of Roger Ebert's review of this film ...

"The most striking image in Peter Matthiessen's novel At Play in the Fields of the Lord describes an Amazonian Indian, standing in the center of a forest clearing, defiantly raising his bow and arrow against an airplane that flies between himself and the sun. The image has been used as the logo for the new film of the novel, but actually two planes cast their shadows on these Indians. One brings the drunken bush pilots Wolfie and Moon, to be hired by a tinpot jungle general to bomb the Indians. The other brings earnest missionaries from North America, to preach their religion to the tribe. In Matthiessen's world, both of these aircraft are machines bearing destruction .... "


Blogger Liam said...

Good choices, Crystal. I liked all those films. Aguirre is truly remarkable.

A fun pope movie, that doesn't have to do with the new world, is Saving Grace, with Tom Conti as the pope. It's very light, but enjoyable.

5:49 AM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...


Thanks for the post. I'd like to know exactly what the Pope said, because, if true, I find his attitude absolutely appalling.

This Washington Post/Reuters article had a little more, including this:

Pope Benedict not only upset many Indians but also Catholic priests who have joined their struggle, said Sandro Tuxa, who heads the movement of northeastern tribes.

"We repudiate the Pope's comments," Tuxa said. "To say the cultural decimation of our people represents a purification is offensive, and frankly, frightening.

"I think (the Pope) has been poorly advised."

"Poorly advised" is being awfully polite.

I'll try to remain positive and wait to see how this story develops. But I'm definitely concerned. There's enough backwards, neo-colonial thinking going on in the world as it is right now. We don't need more of it from a major spiritual leader.

I've seen the first two films, both of which are excellent. You make me want to see the 3rd.

6:35 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Liam - thanks for the recommendation.

Will - maybe what he said made more sense in context, but still it was pretty difturbing ... thanks for the expanded info.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Steve Hayes said...

Interesting. On 16 May a group of us decided to have a "sychroblog" -- we would blog on the same topic on the same day, and put links to each other's posts. The topic was "Christianity and film", and I mentioned two of the same films that you did, so that's synchronised blogging, even if unplanned.

2:13 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Steve,

thanks for dropping by. On the subject of God and film, have you seen the book Finding God in the Dark?

Synchronised blogging .... if only thay had that at the Olympics :-)

5:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Hi Crys,

John Allen had an interesting post about his communication skills (or certain lack thereof) here.

Augustinian, platonic dualism... I'm not a big fan of it, as you well know.

Aguirre I wasn't too crazy about. Found it kind of slow. I've always wanted to see At Play In The Fields of The Lord. Now I'll definitely have to check it out.

9:13 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Jeff,

thanks for the link. The Tablet has some articles this week about the Pope in Brazil too. One had some quotes from an article Leonardo Boff published in the newspaper while the Pope was there ... wish I could read Spanish.

10:45 AM  

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