Thursday, May 22, 2014
2014 Cannes Marathon: The Mission
(Winner of the Palme d’Or & Technical Grand Prize at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival)
Directed by Roland Joffe and written by Robert Bolt, The Mission is the story of a Jesuit priest who travels to South America in the hopes to spread Christianity in the 18th Century as he gains the help of a mercenary seeking salvation. The film is an exploration into a man trying to do right for his faith while meeting another man who tries to find redemption as the two band together against forces trying to destroy the mission they use to protect a tribe of indigenous people. Starring Jeremy Irons, Robert de Niro, Ray McNally, Aidan Quinn, Cherie Lunghi, and Liam Neeson. The Mission is a majestic and powerful from Roland Joffe.
Set in 1750, the film is about a priest who goes to the Iguazu Falls where he hopes to bring Christianity to the Guarani tribe in the hopes to help them as he eventually gains an ally in a mercenary/slaver who is trying to find salvation for his sins. Yet, trouble brews when the land Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) and Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert de Niro) try to protect is expected to be transferred to the Portuguese from the Spanish as the Cardinal Altamirano (Ray McNally) is forced to make a uneasy decision. Especially as it concerns the land where the Portuguese wants to maintain slavery in their land while the other decision will have the Portuguese condemn Jesuit order causing problems with the Catholic Church. It’s a film that doesn’t just explore the idea of faith but also two men who both try to do good with their faith to prevent from hell descending on Earth.
Robert Bolt’s script doesn’t just explore the world of faith and the intentions of the Jesuit order as Father Gabriel is a man who just wants to spread love and hope to Guarani people. Yet, it’s told from the perspective of Cardinal Altamirano as he recalls the events about the story and the guilt he would carry though he’s largely a supporting character. Gabriel is a man of duty and obedience as he comes to the Iguazu Falls to meet with the Guarani tribe despite their resistance following an earlier attempt by a priest. During that meeting, Gabriel meets Mendoza who works for the Spanish governor Cabeza (Chuck Low) as Mendoza would deal with his own sins as he asks for salvation from Gabriel who takes him in to start to the mission where he would eventually be embraced by Gabriel’s order and the Guarani people.
The second act is about Mendoza becoming part of the Jesuit order as he would embrace his new role yet finds himself being outspoken as it concerns the land transfer as he reveals that Cabeza is a slave trader. A conflict over ideas to protect the Guarani people would emerge between Gabriel and Mendoza as the latter believes that the only way to deal with this political power. Gabriel is convinced that violence is the answer as he doesn’t agree with Mendoza’s ideas but does support him since the Guarani don’t want to leave the mission. Especially as the third act is about Guarani tribe and Mendoza doing whatever it takes to fight against the Spanish and Portuguese who want to ensure that the Portuguese get what they want as it showcases a dark world of greed and commerce that Mendoza had removed himself from.
Roland Joffe’s direction is quite vast in not just the scope of the presentation but also in the realism he maintains as he shoots the film on location in the Iguazu Falls as well as the land nearby plus a few locations in Kent, Britain. Joffe’s approach to wide shots add to the beauty of the locations while creating something that feels real as he also goes for some unique medium shots and close-ups. Some of the scenes in the first act where Gabriel and his men climb the cliffs to get to the land while Mendoza is carrying his own things as it plays into the emotional/mental baggage that he’s carrying. Things become peaceful in Joffe’s direction once Mendoza becomes part of the Jesuit order as he, Gabriel, and the rest of the order showcase the kind of sensitivity and peace they bring to the land while ensuring a sense of faith all around them.
The film’s second half is much darker once the actions of Cabeza and the Portuguese governor Hontar (Ronald Pickup) come into play as their intentions are for profit only as it the Cardinal Altamirano comes in as the man who holds the fate of the order and the tribe in his hands. There is a sense of tension and suspense that starts to creep in as well as what is inevitable. All of which comes into this horrifying climax where the battle lines are drawn as the two methods of Mendoza and Gabriel come into play to protect the mission they have built and cared for. Overall, Joffe creates a very haunting yet powerful drama about two men trying to protect their faith and the people they care for.
Cinematographer Chris Menges does incredible work with the film‘s very naturalistic look with very little emphasis on artificial lighting to create something that feels real and entrancing. Editor Jim Clark does excellent work with the editing with its stylish use of dissolves as well as rhythmic cuts to play into the drama and suspense. Production designer Stuart Craig, with set decorator Jack Stephens and supervising art director Norman Dorme, does brilliant work with the look of the mission that Gabriel and his team created which feels peaceful and naturalistic as opposed to the more posh home of the governors.
Costume designer Enrico Sabbatini does nice work with the period costumes from the uniforms and posh clothes that are worn by the settlers to the more simple look of the priests. The special visual effects by Peter Hutchinson is terrific for the minimal visual effects scenes such as the priest tied to a cross who falls into the waterfalls. The sound work of Ian Fuller, Bill Rowe, and Clive Winter is superb for the way it captures the natural environment of the locations along with the layering of sounds in the climatic battle scene. The film’s music by Ennio Morricone is just phenomenal as it’s a major highlight of the film with its emphasis on woodwinds and bombastic orchestral arrangements to play into the sense of adventure and drama as it is one of Morricone’s great film scores.
The casting by Susie Figgis and Juliet Taylor is fantastic as it features some small yet notable performances from Aidan Quinn as Mendoza’s brother Felipe, Cheri Lunghi as Mendoza’s fiancée Carlotta, Ronald Pickup and Chuck Low in their respective roles as the scheme governors of Portugal and Spain, and Liam Neeson in a wonderful performance as Father Fielding who is Gabriel’s right-hand man. Ray McNally is excellent as the conflicted Cardinal Altamirano who deals with the role he has to play for the Jesuit order as well as the fate of the Guarani people as he finds himself making an uneasy decision.
Jeremy Irons is amazing as Father Gabriel as man who maintains the ideas he was taught as he deals with the harsh realities he faces when his mission is threatened as he tries to keep his faith intact. Finally, there’s Robert de Niro in a remarkable performance as Rodrigo Mendoza as a man troubled by his actions as he seeks salvation as he would eventually find a reason to redeem himself as he would later fight for the people he’s grown to love and care for.
The Mission is a tremendous film from Roland Joffe that features outstanding performances from Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons. It’s a film that doesn’t just explore the world of faith as two men try to bring hope to a group of people who are removed from society but also in maintaining that sense of hope in a world that is very troubled. Especially as it reveals the cruel portrayal of humanity who care more about profit than doing what is right for the world and humanity as two men try to maintain that sense of good in the world. In the end, The Mission is a magnificent film Roland Joffe.
© thevoid99 2014