The Mission Roland Joffé

Director Roland Joffé always had an epic vision — now his 1986 film The Mission receives a worthy treatment with this two-disc DVD issue. The Mission tells the story of a Jesuit (Jeremy Irons) and a slave-trader who converts to the priesthood (Robert De Niro), each fighting to save their South American mission from the political battles being waged between the states of Portugal, Spain and the Catholic church. The story of the Guarani — the now nearly-extinct South American community that's caught in the middle of all this — steals the heart of the film. And with an hour-long documentary that focuses almost exclusively on them, the Waunana people recruited to play the Guarani are what makes this DVD such a fascinating document. The Waunana community had been isolated in the Columbian jungles until Joffé arrived seeking a river community with the skills and connection to the past to effectively portray the Guarani — a task that would have been a disaster with "modern" extras. And very quickly, a paternalistic "but you can't take these people out of their lives" response gives way to the charm, pride and enthusiasm of the Waunana people in the film. Not only do they turn out to be effective actors, their sense of pride at honouring the Guarani and their struggle is palpable. Joffé certainly considers this one of his great accomplishments (along with The Killing Fields), as his high-minded, philosophical and meandering commentary track reveals. And while he may be walking in the footsteps of giants like director David Lean — Lean's long-time collaborator Robert Bolt also wrote The Mission — he doesn't quite fill those shoes. But for its occasional weakness, The Mission remains a spectacular vision and an interesting narrative interpretation of the political forces at work. Extras: director commentary; "The Making of The Mission." (Warner)