Avant-premiere at Bozar: Pilgrimage

Ireland, 1209, an island that has remained free from foreign control, Anglo-Saxon or Norman, its people still roaming the verdant hills, hunting in the wild, inhabiting the rocky landscape by the sea. The second crusade is only a few years behind (1202-1204) and even if Christians were able to capture Constantinople, Jerusalem remains under Muslim rule. Turmoil is about to build up again in Europe, the Pope is gathering forces to make another attempt to recover the Holy Land.

In Brendan Muldowney‘s epic new film Pilgrimage, we see a group of Celtic monks embark on an adventure to bring a relic, the stone that was used to martyr Saint Matthias, all the way from the confines of Ireland to the Pope’s hands in Rome. Perhaps the relic could help the faithful succeed in the battle?

The avant-premiere of the film was shown on June 22nd at Bozar Centre for Fine Arts, in presence of the director and the crew, followed by a reception cocktail, and it was organized by BNP Paribas Fortis Film Finance, Wrong Men, and Savage Productions.

In the film we follow the plot through the eyes of brother Diarmuid, played by Tom Holland, a member of an Irish monk order that has assumed the task of protecting Saint Matthias’ relic, keeping it safe for centuries. The monks have an austere life, eating fish and seaweed, farming animals; nature and God seem to be their only companions.

When brother Geraldus, a Cistercian monk played splendidly by Stanley Weber, arrives to inform them of the news, brother Diarmuid is chosen by his superiors to make the trip. From the first moment, Geraldus reveals a zealous devotion. He will give up everything, turn his back on everyone, if that will get him to better serve God.

Diarmuid has never left this remote corner of Ireland and this is seen an opportunity for him to discover the outside world and himself, to be closer to God. Yet he is about to see something else, tragic and confusing, a world that will unravel before his eyes without leaving Ireland.

premiere pilgrimage

“One of the things we wanted to explore in this film is, How far can people go when they are blinded by their faith,” said Benoit Roland, film co-producer from Wrong Men Productions. “And it’s something that, to some extent, matches our current reality.”

The group is accompanied by a mute, played by Jon Bernthal, who one day appeared washed on the shore of Ireland and was rescued by Diarmuid. His character remains mysterious, enigmatic, and as the film moves forward, we find out that he’s been a soldier in the crusades, marked by the horrible things he’s witnessed, perhaps participated in as well. Although silent, a strong loyalty binds him to Diarmuid.

“He seeks some sort of redemption,” said Mr. Roland. “As we begin to know more about him through the film, we get to know that this is his quest.”

The first thing that will please the viewer is the stunning work of cinematography. Wide angle shots of the Irish coast, its white sand dunes being shaved by the wind, rocky cliffs against overcast skies. Music also accompanies the group through the thick of the forest, a wide set of dangers lurking inside it, the religious chants turning the trip into a blend of peace and anxiety. Many viewers might recognize some of the locations, which include parts of the West Coast of Ireland, as well as the Ardennes in Belgium.

One of the interesting choices for the film was the language, which includes dialogue in Irish (sometimes called Gaelic), French and English.

“The team worked a lot with language,” Mr. Roland said. “It was important for us to show the reality of the period. We wanted to make the audience experience how it was like back then.”

Certain aspects of the plot remain somewhat mysterious, without a clear explanation. When the group leaves, it is stated that the stone must not be touched; every person who’s ever touched it has died, warns one of the more experienced monks. So when, half-way through the film, Diarmuid offers to take the relic with his own hands, carry it in his bag, the audience wonders why he shows no hesitation or fear.

“Some people will like the film more than others,” said Mr. Roland. “But we hope that at least something will stay with them. That is any producer or director’s hope, that you can change people, even if it’s just a little bit.”

The film is schedule for general release in early August.