No production better illustrates the collaborative nature ofthe film medium than The .I'It's‘sion. An epic inquest into man‘s inhumanity to man. there is not one frame which doesn't reflect the individual contributions of its makers from Chris Menges' breathtaking photography to Ennio Morricone‘s majestic musical score. from Robert Bolt‘s literate and incisive script to the contrasting performances of Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons. Here. for once. is a staggering cinema experience that is the sum of its parts.

At this year‘s Cannes Film Festival. The .ltliszs‘t'on was the hottest ticket in town and rightly walked away with the main jury prize ofthe Palme d'Or. It would be a brave man who underestimates its chances at the ()scar ceremony next Spring.

Set iii the rain forests ofSouth America. the film intertwines the storiesoftwo men at the forefront of European colonialist expansion duringthe eighteenth century. FatherGabriel (Irons) is a member of the Jesuit order who travels into the jungle. bringing (‘hristianity to the indigenous Indian inhabitants and establishing a Utopian-like mission based on love and fellowship.

Roderigo Mendoza (De Niro) is a mercenary slave trader who captures the Indians and sells them to the Spanish. A ruthless soldier of fortune. Mendoza is unable to

control his anger when he learns that

his beloved brother has appropriated the affections of the one woman he loves. Ile kills the younger man in a duel and retreats. griefstricken. to a hospital for incurables. Gabriel visits him there and discovers an instinctive understanding between them. Mendoza decides to join the mission as the first step on his road to redemption.

It transpires that the two men are merely pawns in global gamesmanship. When Spain and Portugal sign the Treaty of Madrid establishing new frontiers in South America. a Papal envoy is dispatched to decide the missions fate. IIisanguished choice of political expediency over the dictates ofeonscience seals the fate of both men.

Director Roland Joffe feels that the historical setting allowed the film to aim for universal truths that would just not have been possible with a contemporary subject. "I‘here is a problem of being overly documentary-like when you deal with something that is happening now. If you make a film about Nicaragua or Salvador it would be just about that. I wanted to make a film that didn't exclude mythology and spirituality and the levels of mystery and symbolism. The heart of the film for me is in the way one culture dominates or takes over another and the balance between good and evil. We should learn from our errors in history but memories are short and we don‘t learn. There were debates throughout filming about the relationship between the State and the Church and the history


The Mission was this year’s Cannes sensation. Allan Hunter talked to four of the film‘s principals.

of betrayal that is woven into that history. the betrayal of the Communists in Spain for instance. As we made the film events in Brazil only reinforced the point of how these events recur time after time in our history.‘

(‘o-producer David Puttnam realised that Joffe was the man for The .lrlission after their fruitful collaboration on the Oscar-winning Killing Fields. The two men are self-confessed disciples of Italian director (iillo Pontecorvo and if Killing Fields is their Battle ofA/giers then The .llission is their Queimada.’ (Burnl).

Puttnam had first encountered the material several years before in Hollywood when he had been vainly trying to secure the finance for Chariots ofFire and Fernando (ihia was meeting a similarly apathetic response to The illission. During mutual commiserations Puttnam read the script. ‘I was very moved by it and the very rare thing is that it stayed with me for five years. After The Killing Fields there was nothing that I could offer Roland until I remembered The .llission and it seemed an ideal combination.

Puttnam contacted (ihia and the project moved into first gear with a budget from (ioldcrest in the region of£l7 million. For Ghia the film has been the realisation ofalmost a lifetime's work. He had been interested in the European colonisation ofSouth America for many years and decided it would become the basis ofa film after reading a 1973 edition of Time which contained an article entitled ‘The Black Pope‘ about the Father General of the Jesuits. At the time he had just produced Lady Caroline Lamb. the one and only film directed by scenarist Robert Bolt (author also of the play A Man for All .S'easons).

I Ie told Bolt of his plans and travelled with him to South America. a trip that provided the final inspiration for the script.

'I'hat script was completed some ten years ago but altered again to encompass .loffe‘s vision of what the film was about. ()riginally‘ I’ather (iabriel had been a much older man and envisaged as being played by Dirk Bogarde or ('y‘ril ('usaek. .loffe. however. insisted that the two men be similar iii age to eradicate a father-son relationship and replace it with a more equally based competitiveness between the man of the cloth and the man of the sword. Joffe also insisted that (iabriel's choice of non-violent. (ihandi-like resistance tnust be seen to be as viable and desirable an option as Mendoza's choice of fighting with might. 'I‘he stoical obduracy of (iabriel invitescomparisons with Sir Thomas More in Bolt‘s earlier play .‘I .llanforxll/ Seasons and whilst Bolt finds the espousal of pacifism and self-sacrifice admirable it is personally untenable. ‘l'm not a pacifist.‘ he says. ‘I know that if Ilitler were to walk into this room just now I‘d want to kill him!‘

Bolt feels that Joffe’s sympathetic depiction of the Indians errs on the side of .N'attonal Geographic niceness. ‘I wanted to show just a tiny bit of their human side. Just a bit. There were two scenes I wanted in showing thctn as lecherous and getting drunk. It would have been more balanced. better.‘

(‘asting the film was of prime importance; Mendoza requires a forbidding star presence and the shortlist of possibilities included Al Pacino and (‘lint [Eastwood before Robert De Niro was selected. (iabricl projects an inner strength born ofconviction and Jeremy Irons considered the script. along with ()itt

old/rim. as one of the two finest offers he had received in recent ."ears. Irons' commitment to the film has been above and beyond the call ofduty'. I Ie learnt \Vaunana to facilitate his cotnniuiiicatioti with the Indians. worked with Daniel Berrigan to get inside the mind of a Jesuit Priest and actually did the ha/ardous climbing of the lgua/u l’alls that is seen iii the film. ‘\\'orking w ith real Indians and in pretty'siniilar locationstow here the story took place are an enormous help to your performance.‘ Irons told a ( 'annes press conference. ‘Beinghot. being bitten. clinibiiiga rock face all mean you have to pretend less.‘

The different acting disciplines of Irons and De .\'iro created ati initial coolness between the two of tlietii but as the film progressed so did their rapport. serving as a mirror for the development of theii'on-screen relationship. (liven the otteii trying and treacherous conditions under which The .lllyslitll w as made it would have been disastrous had the two stars not got on.

Now that they have sury iy‘ed their ordeals ofthe long—distance financial crisis at (ioldcrest. .lofle‘s illness and other privations the .lltyyion team can reflect on a remarkable achievement. 'l‘o some the film is historically inaccurate and bitterly contentious but this is a drama and not a documentary and there cati be nodeny'ing its sincerity of intent and emotional impact. l’eriiaiido ( ihia hopes that tltc film will make audiences feel guilty and perhaps more responsible for the future. Joffe would echo his view. hoping that for once someone pay s heed to the lessonsolhistory. for him llie .llis‘y‘ion is about a lllt iiiieiit lioiii the past when mankind lost its innocence and sullied a purity that can ney er be regained.

Asked to sittii up his impression of working on the Illlll Jeremy lions protested that he w as generally tiseless at recalling telling anecdotes or expressing snap judgements. ’I'lic‘tt he tlispt'oy'ctl the point by” recounting the follow iiig story: "I‘hree of the Indians came to I'ingland for some post-pioductioii work and we took tlietii on a boat ride tip the 'I haiiics. 'l hey sat and told me a story that their tathei had told them. One night. long ago when every body was black ( iod had woken them up and said that there was a lake that had to be emptied. some oftheni went and bailed out the lake. some stay ed in l‘cd and slept on. 'I'he ones w ho stay ed iii bed

stayed black. the ones w ho worked became white and ey er since the blacks have had a hard time. I sat and listened and just thought to my sell I wonder which Spaniard told them that.‘

The .Ilts'sion opens at the .II li’(' .S'auchtehall Street in (i'lityeoi-' and {lie .-IB( ' Edinburgh on llei‘eiixt‘i " /_’ Shaken Roots. an etht'lit'tii 'i' i t photographs illustrating ho ‘1 .'I'l ’xn peoples are still exploited . y at tlii (iateivay' lire/range. Tall/313.42 3/: tot/ll l3 Dec. See Shortlist. J

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