Friday, May 28, 2004

# Posted 2:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AN EXTRAORDINARY FILM: Two nights ago, I had the pleasure of watching The Mission. First shown in 1986, it recounts the heart-rending struggle of Jesuit missionaries to protect indigenous South Americans from enslavement and murder.

The film is an artistic triumph in every respect. Its narrative is compelling. Both Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons give evocative performances. But above all, it is the cinematography that will take your breath away. Even though any amateur with a video camera can make the lush canyons of South America look stunning, The Mission not only provides awesome footage of the landscape that no amateur could shoot, but also integrates the landscape into the narrative, thus adding tremendous emotional depth to both the characters and their natural environment.

Another remarkable aspect of the film is its decision to cast the Waunana tribe of Colombia as the Guarani people embraced by the Jesuits. For those with access to the most recent DVD version of the film, I highly recommend the documentary that comes along with it. In it, director Roland Joffe, best known for The Killing Fields, explains how it was possible to win the trust and hire hundreds of actors belonging to an impoverished Colombian tribe. Although barely familiar with modern technology and often exploited by pale-skinned outsiders, the Waunana traveled over 1000 miles on buses and planes in order to live for more than two months in a special village constructed to resemble their home in the Cauca region of Colombia. With this in mind, their impressive performance in the film becomes all the more spectacular.

Finally, I think it is important to comment on the spiritual dimension of the film. In the popular mind, there are few heroes associated with the European arrival in the Western hemisphere. Often, one thinks of Catholicism as a justification for the brutal repression of the hemisphere's natives. Yet the history of the Jesuits reminds us that there was an entire order devoted to the highest ideals of a humane Christianity. For those of us who are not Christians, I think that this aspect of The Mission does far more to explain the power of the Christian than does the unremitting violence of a film like The Passion.

UPDATE: SM reminds me to mention that The Mission also has an incredible score. And she's absolutely right.
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