Martin Scorsese
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ROME – Martin Scorsese and Mexican producer Gaston Pavlovich met with Pope Francis on Wednesday prior to a Vatican screening of “Silence,” the veteran U.S. director’s new film about the persecution of Christians in 17th-century Japan.

The private papal audience, held in the Apostolic Palace, was announced by the Vatican press office Tuesday in a clear show of support for “Silence,” Scorsese’s passion project.

The film portrays two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries, played by Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield, who must contend with various forms of persecution as they travel through 17th-century Japan to proselytize locals and track down their mentor, played by Liam Neeson. The film is based on a novel by the same title by Japanese author Shusaku Endo.

Francis, who is the first Jesuit pope, is known to have joined the Jesuit order hoping to become a missionary in Japan. American priest James Martin, who is editor of the Jesuit weekly “America,” served as a consultant on “Silence.”

The Vatican press office said Francis had received Scorsese, who was accompanied by his wife and two daughters, and described the 15-minute meeting as “very cordial.” The pope told the group that he had read Endo’s novel. He and Scorsese spoke about the experience of Jesuit missionaries in Japan.

Scorsese gave the pope framed images depicting “hidden Christians” in Japan, including a reproduction of an ancient image of the Virgin of Nagasaki and a portrait of the “martyrs of Japan.” The pope gave the guests some rosaries.

“Silence” will screen Wednesday afternoon in the roughly 50-seat Vatican Film Library’s screening room, located in the Palazzo San Carlo, in Vatican City. It is not known whether the pope will attend.

On Tuesday, “Silence” screened for roughly 300 Jesuit priests at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, in what amounted to the film’s de facto world premiere. Attendees were able to discuss the film with Scorsese afterwards.

“It was an extremely powerful experience, almost indescribable, to see a film about Jesuit missionaries among my brother Jesuits from all over the world,” Martin commented on Facebook.

It’s taken Scorsese 27-years to make “Silence,” which had a budget of $46.5 million. The film’s main financer is Pavlovich, a Mexican businessman and former government official who is now producing increasingly ambitious movies through his Fabrica de Cine company, which has offices in Mexico City and Los Angeles.

The film’s director and producer share a passion for both movies and religion. Scorsese is known to have considered the priesthood before pursuing film. Pavlovich attends annual Catholic retreats in Mexico and is a frequent guest speaker on Catholic campuses and church events.

While it’s not unusual for new faith-based films to screen in Vatican City for audiences largely made up of clergy, it’s rare for the Vatican to become the first place where an upcoming Hollywood release gets its first public screening.

The last Hollywood production to get a Vatican screening was the Angelina Jolie-directed war drama “Unbroken,” which has a strong spiritual component. It unspooled last year for Vatican prelates at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Sciences  following its theatrical release. Jolie met briefly with Pope Francis after the Vatican screening, which he did not attend.

Scorsese’s most spiritual film prior to “Silence” is “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which was based on a revisionist novel by Nikos Kazantzakis that gave prominence to Christ’s human dimension. That film sparked plenty of controversy and was deemed “morally offensive” by the U.S. Catholic Church in particular due to a dream sequence in which Jesus has sex with Mary Magdalene.

Paramount will release “Silence” in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 23, a plum awards-season slot, before rolling it out nationwide in January. The pic will go out in Italian theaters via 01 Distribuzione on Jan. 12.

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