by Clive Fisher
THE LINES of good and evil, responsibility and irresponsibility have been redrawn. Just as pop stars now spend all their time singing for the starving, when their forebears in the sixties were too busy taking acid and driving limousines into swimming pools, so the villains of cinema have change their spots.
Hollywood can no longer pick on the Indians because the poor
things are almost extinct. And audiences found it increasingly difficult to side with the cops when the robbers were often made more exciting.
Since the cold war thawed, we can no longer go to the flicks in the sure knowledge that evil incarnate will have a Russian accent and will haunt Checkpoint Charlie, hell-bent on the damnation of the west.
Germans, especially in Gestapo uniform, were also a convenient and longstanding scapegoat: now, richer than the rest of us, and mercantile rather than military imperialists, they too are off limits.
The aggressors of the moment — though sinister — appear as yet too disorganised, and unlike the Russians and the Germans, pose no likely threat to freedom, Coca Cola, and the things that matter: so it is unlikely that many films will try and involve their audiences in the affairs of Libya or Iran or the possibility of the IRA buying weapons from Cuba with laundered Colombian drug money.
But the cinema, being an unsubtle form of entertainment, needs its devils. Suddenly, someone stumbled across the solution: dramatic reconstructions of the struggle for freedom, setting for the action unimportant.
This formula can accommodate period drama (Gandhi) but is usually set contemporaneously. South Africa (Cry Freedom, A Dry White Season, A World Apart) is naturally a favourite. The Far East will do (The Killing Fields); and Latin America is likely after Salvador to become more popular.
Romero (Cannon, "15") gives an account of the political maturing and murder — in 1980 — of the Salvadoran archbishop. As a character study, it presents rather a good film; as an account of the problems of El Salvador (and the closing credits remind us that since Romero's death, 60,000 Salvadorans have perished because of those problems) it offers a catalogue of glib convictions.
The appointment of Romero (Raul Julia) was apparently unwelcome to the prodemocracy movement. Reticent, scholarly and infirm, he seemed ill-suited to the struggle for freedom. The plutocracy supporting General Humberto was, however, delighted. The church should be above politics; and with Romero, that is where she would remain.
Thanks to Raul Julia, this almost comes off. He has considerable presence, and while not endowing Romero with an implausible saintliness, has given the protagonist dignity and a reluctant and moving heroism in a performance which is calm and moving.
The problem with the films of this genre is that they all know unequivocally which side they're on: the result is, that righteous indignation decides plot and character and good and evil are realigned with unlikely simplicity and clarity.
Nevertheless, an impressive performance from Julia; and a powerful reminder that we could all do worse than live in England.
Fr John Medcalf offered his view of "Romero" in our edition of February 23.
A Mass to mark the tenth anniversary of the murder of Archbishop Romero will be celebrated by Cardinal Hume on March 23 at 6 pm at St Aloysius Church, Phoenix Road, London NWl. Fr Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ will preach the homily. The Mass is sponsored by CAFOD and CIIR.