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‘Ignacio’: a daring movie

We missed the early-evening screening of “Ignacio de Loyola” and so had to loiter around Glorietta for over two hours as we waited for the 10 p.m. screening. By that time, I was apprehensive that our senior-citizen status would render us too drowsy to stay up till the movie’s end.

I was especially fearful for the hubby. To start with, we had to play “rock, paper, scissors” to decide whether to watch the film on the life of St. Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus, or the latest Jason Bourne caper. Obviously, he lost the game, but I was apprehensive. Requiring him to sit through a movie not of his choosing was bad enough, but a movie on the life of a saint, one that would end past midnight at that? I was afraid his snoring would so annoy the other patrons in the theater that we would be ordered out.

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But let me make clear right now that neither one of us nodded off that Thursday evening. No one snored, and at the movie’s close, some in the audience broke out in spontaneous applause. It is one thing to applaud a movie at the invitational premiere; you owe the sponsors at least that if only for their hospitality. But to loudly show your appreciation when it isn’t required, or you don’t need to be polite? To quote Sally Fields on her first Oscar win: “You like me! You really, really like me!”

Like the movie we did. And we liked it more for being a full Filipino production, even if it had been shot in Spain and mostly starred Spanish actors. I had to wonder at the sheer chutzpah of the filmmakers: Jesuit Communications which bankrolled the production, executive producer Emmanuel Alfonso, producers Pauline Mangilog Saltarin and Ernestine Tamana, and the director/writer and codirector/writer, the spouses Paolo Dy and Cathy Azanza.

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It is no small thing, after all, to dare make a movie that appeals to an international audience (it is the first Filipino movie to be screened in the Vatican, but sadly, the Jesuit Pope Francis was not in attendance), but which is about a subject matter that is both so familiar and yet so arcane.

St. Ignatius is a familiar name to most Catholics, especially to all who went to Jesuit institutions, know some Jesuits, or read up on the Society of Jesus. For the most part, many would also know the broad outlines of the life of this soldier-saint: how, wounded in battle, he turned inward and “found God,” preaching in both the Holy Land and in Spain, surviving a trial during the Inquisition for unauthorized preaching, and then founding the Society of Jesus. Almost from the beginning, the Jesuits, known for their erudition and sophistication, became one of the most respected and yet most controversial religious orders for men.

What we don’t know, and get in good doses, is the interior story of this conversion. We see how Iñigo de Loyola, the youngest son of a Spanish noble striving to prove his worth to his father and the rest of his family, sees his dreams of chivalrous knighthood shattered when his leg is injured during a battle. Recuperating, he reads the “Lives of the Saints” and a retelling of the life of Jesus, and forms a vision in his mind: He will abjure all things material (even his love for women) and embark on a life of contemplation, reflection and teaching.

Dy formulates a scenario of Iñigo’s radical transformation, the days he spent in a cave where he confronts the Devil and then conceives of his “Spiritual Exercises,” which live on to this day as part of the Ignatian retreats.

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Truly amazing is how the movie translates this inner struggle, this search for faith and meaning, in human terms that make it compelling, dramatic, and moving. I must confess that I haven’t seen a spiritual search depicted so viscerally and familiarly.

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The acting helps a lot. Andreas Muñoz, a stage actor in his native land, essays the role of Iñigo/Ignacio with so much intensity and yet luminous clarity. He imbues the founder of the Jesuits with so much humanity and yet also heroism.

Among the supporting cast, I found Isabel Garcia Lorca, as Doña Ines Pascual, a noblewoman who provides early support for the searching Ignacio and testifies on his behalf before the Inquisitor court, inhabiting her aristocratic character with both softness and sincerity.

Also worth mention is Tacuara Casares as Princess Catalina, who early in the movie inspires Iñigo’s dreams of chivalry but who, at a crucial time of testing, restores his faith in humanity. That she is also lovely and gentle makes Iñigo’s devotion to her believable.

But really, the movie is a triumph of ensemble acting. The actors are largely unknown to the Filipino audience, and yet they come across as entirely believable and accessible. “Ignacio de Loyola” is truly a feat of global filmmaking!

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But we mustn’t forget the “Filipino element” in this movie.

To start with, there is the music, which to my surprise was actually the handiwork of Ryan Cayabyab. As I watched “Ignacio,” I thought the background music, so edifying and soaring, had been sourced from classical recordings. What a pleasant and joyful surprise it was to see Cayabyab’s name in the credits!

So, too, with Lee Meily, the cinematographer, who gave the movie its lush, rich and brilliant luster, belying its relatively small budget when compared with other movies meant for the world market.

How daring, indeed, for the Philippine Jesuit Community to embark on a project of this scope and ambition, to believe enough in the movie and convince its audience that such a film is still needed in today’s world.

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TAGS: Films, Ignacio de Loyola, Jesuit, St. Ignatius
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