First Run Features // 2011 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // April 17th, 2012
In the late '70s, the people of El Salvador were trapped under the boot heel of an oppressive, totalitarian regime. The military was in complete control, and the poor were often ignored, abused, and treated as second-tier citizens. Anyone who spoke up against the government would disappear -- unless, of course, you were the Archbishop of the Catholic Church. Monseñor: The Last Journey of Óscar Romero documents the rise, influence, and assassination of one of the most inspiring figures in the country's history: a humble, yet outspoken, priest.
Óscar Romero was appointed the Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 and was immediately seen as an outsider from Rome. He found himself leading a church that had traditionally sided with the government and the wealthy, but preached to the poor and the downtrodden. After the assassination of Romero's friend, Fr. Rotillo Grande, the new Archbishop decided to take a stand. His weekly homilies, which were broadcast across the country, called attention to the kidnapped and murdered dissidents. He held the government accountable, and gave fuel to the ideology of the Marxist rebels -- a side effect of his sermons that Romero didn't totally endorse. Ultimately, Romero tried to mediate between the rebels and the government, preaching peace and respect for all people. His message made him one of the biggest threats to the El Salvadorian government, and he was in constant danger of assassination.
Monseñor is a powerful documentary. The narrative is told almost entirely through eye witness interviews and archival audio -- Romero used a dictaphone to record diary entries. The amount of news clippings, photos, and film on Romero is at times staggering (and occasionally gruesome), and allows filmmakers Ana Carrigan and Juliet Weber to present the story in an unbiased light. The interviews in the film feature parishioners, rebels, and even former military soldiers that experienced Romero firsthand. One of the most intense segments comes at the film's climax, as Romero's lawyer advises him that giving a homily about soldiers disobeying orders to kill might be a form of treason. It would be Romero's last, endearing message: the rule of God should trump orders from your fellow man.
Despite the tremendous amount of footage, audio, and witnesses to Romero's life as Archbishop, the documentary doesn't give a whole lot of insight into his personal life. He remains a historical figure, at times saintly, but there are few anecdotes about his warmth or compassion away from the pulpit. The documentary focuses instead on the progression of events, and Romero's heroic and understated crusade against the junta. Monseñor is a documentary about exhibiting faith and belief through action, and about fighting for the inherent dignity found in everyone. That message is very clear, even if the man behind it remains slightly distant.
Monseñor: The Last Journey of Óscar Romero is out on DVD with a fairly standard presentation. The video transfer and audio are both good, but there's little in the way of special features -- they've included a study guide for educational use.
Monseñor is an inspiring and well-made documentary. If you want to get a more personal look at the Archbishop, I'd recommend the Raul Julia film, Romero; otherwise, this is a fascinating, historical account of one man's efforts to thwart a civil war.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Study Guide
* Oscar Romero Memorial