What is heroism in your mind? Is it being the toughest dude around, shooting all the bad guys, saving beautiful hostages, and knowing how to pose while flexing your muscles carrying your latest paramour? Or maybe it is about giving up your life to go to war zones in Africa, where you use your medical skills to save the lives of orphans? For me, heroism can be found in the Filipino team behind the movie Ignacio de Loyola. Produced by the media arm of the Philippine Province of the Jesuits using Filipino filmmakers and mostly Spanish actors, they have managed to mount a gorgeous, international production of a story I find very valuable.
Plot synopsis: From Soldier to Saint
As a former Jesuit, I have had to tell this narrative to many, many youths. Iñigo (later changed to Ignatius) de Loyola (Andreas Muñoz) was the son of a minor noble family from the Basque Country of Spain. His desire was to serve king and country as a valiant knight in the many Spanish wars of the 16th century. He dreamed, like most young nobles did, of earning many honours and winning the hand of a high born lady. However, his foolish bravado led him to mount a feeble attempt at protecting the city of Pamplona from invading French forces, and a cannon ball injured his leg. Stuck in a bed at his family home, the only books Inigo had to read were religious ones. Influenced by reading about the life of the saints, his dreams of greatness changed, and when healed, he left the family castle in search for his life of holiness. The film then continues to follow his travels through Spain as he learns what God has in store for his life.
What I would have given to have had this film around during my youth group organizing days! Paolo Dy’s first feature length film is a dynamic hagiography, visually appealing, entertaining, and emotionally engaging. Dy is best known as a director of commercials, although his career began with working with the Jesuits after graduating from the Ateneo. Knowing both how to sell a product with great visuals and an understanding of the Jesuit Magis (a kind of search for the greater good), Dy was the perfect choice to direct this finest piece of Catholic propaganda. I am not using “propaganda” as a disparaging term here; some films are particularly made to peddle an ideology, and sometimes they do it well, and sometimes they don’t. Dy, and his Filipino production crew, do it fantastically.
The Spitting Image of Ignatius
Perfect casting is probably the film’s greatest coup; Muñoz looks and acts so much like one would imagine a slight-framed, young Ignatius, brimming with energy and charisma. While I would have preferred the film in Spanish, nonetheless, despite English not being his first language, Muñoz’s preaching scenes are very touching and subtle. I wish we could hear such meaningful sermons during a regular Sunday Mass. Muñoz has to compete with a lot of CGI and beautiful vistas at the start of the film, but his talents are best showcased in the film’s quietest scenes. While the battle scenes featured are suitably spectacular, they often seem overly dramatic with a strong score and History Channel-like visual effects. As the film calms down after Iñigo’s conversion, the showy extras are stripped away, and it is primarily the conversations between Iñigo and the people he meets on his journeys that have the most resonance. One particular scene, when Inigo speaks to a prostitute, sets the formula for how Inigo’s teaching style would develop, giving the viewers an excellent set of lessons about his beautiful spirituality.
A Clear Spiritual Course and a Film to Pray Over
I am no longer a Jesuit, but Ignacio de Loyola did remind me of all that was good about my former life. While church politics surround Inigo the movie focuses on what was Inigo’s greatest gift to the world, his manner of spiritual direction. St. Ignatius attempted to teach people how to make good decisions, based on his “rules for discernment”. The film might inspire you to be Jesuit, but even if it doesn’t, it will get you interested in a very usable spirituality that makes a lot of sense. May you be stirred to “Praise God Always”.