In the 1750s, a South American Jesuit community led by Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) resist a Madrid decision to transfer the area to Portugal, which allows slavery. Two years after The Killing Fields (1984), director Roland Joffé received a lot of attention for another emotional, reality-based drama depicting colonialism and a conflict played out in the name of power and the church. The local population is portrayed in a lyrical light, exquisitely photographed, with a powerful, moving score by Ennio Morricone. The story is simple, but the filmmakers engage us with their compassionate, very cinematic approach. Among the characters, Robert De Niro’s repentant slave trader is a stand-out.
1986-Britain. 125 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by David Puttnam, Fernando Ghia. Directed by Roland Joffé. Screenplay: Robert Bolt. Cinematography: Chris Menges. Music: Ennio Morricone. Editing: Jim Clark. Cast: Robert De Niro (Rodrigo Mendoza), Jeremy Irons (Father Gabriel), Ray McAnally (Cardinal Altamirano), Aidan Quinn, Cherie Lunghi, Ronald Pickup… Liam Neeson.
Oscar: Best Cinematography. Golden Globes: Best Screenplay, Original Score. BAFTA: Best Supporting Actor (McAnally), Editing, Score. Cannes: Palme d’Or.
Last word: “I started working with Robert (Bolt). Robert had just had a stroke and he was such a brave man. I mean, he struggled with his language and everything and he sort of fought his way back in front of my eyes. So he knew everything about the story and I’d sort of look into his face … and his eyes … and they’d be full of understanding. Although the words couldn’t quite come out, he’d write them down with sort of a shaky hand. I just got more and more involved and I fell in love with the project. I simply felt that it was a great story with some sort of eternal value.” (Joffé, DVD Movie Guide)