On June 24, 1981, in the village of Medjugorge in Bosnia-Herzegovina, six children ranging in age from 10 to their mid-teens announced that they had experienced a vision of Gospa-- the Virgin Mary--floating on a cloud.
While not experiencing the vision himself, the local Croatian Catholic priest, Father Jozo Zovko, unhesitatingly believed them. Very swiftly, the Communist Yugoslav government demanded that Zovko issue a disclaimer, and when he refused to do so, he soon found himself threatened, harassed, tortured and finally put on trial for treason.
Father Zovko's story is told in "Gospa," an ambitious, reflective production that suffers from the usual drawback of international casting but is sustained by a highly focused performance of understated power by Martin Sheen as Zovko. Sometimes ponderous, often weighed down by rhetoric and overly long, the beautifully photographed "Gospa" nonetheless does possess a genuinely spiritual dimension that will appeal to religious audiences, Catholics in particular.
Director Jakov Sedlar and writers Ivan Aralica and Paul Gronseth are admirably clear in showing that Zovko's stand, taken simply as a man of God, would inescapably be perceived as a Croatian nationalist threat to a totalitarian regime. As one of the Communist officials remarks, "In Yugoslavia everything is political."
Sheen's Zovko is most likable--a warm, unpretentious man not seeking martyrdom but prepared to stand up for his beliefs no matter what the cost to himself. Sheen is well supported by Michael York as his brave attorney and Morgan Fairchild--yes, you read correctly--as Zovko's sister, a nun.
Unfortunately, the American and British actors speak in their own accents, and the local actors are either dubbed into English or speak English with pronounced accents. A clear-cut decision as to whether everyone would speak accented English or American English or the Queen's English--along with tighter editing--would surely would have resulted in a film of greater impact. None of this, however, is likely to bother audiences drawn to "Gospa" in the first place.
* MPAA rating: PG, for scenes of political persecution and mild language. Times guidelines: The film is too somber for the very young but suitable for mature older children.
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Martin Sheen: Father Jozo Zovko
Michael York: Milan Vukovic
Morgan Fairchild: Sister Fafijana Zovko
Frank Finlay: The Monsignor
A Penland Company release of a Wayne Films/ Marianfilm/Jadran Film production. Producer-director Jakov Sedlar. Producers Igor Prizmic, Zdravko Mihalic. Executive producers Barry Morrow, Ivan M. Perkovich. Screenplay by Ivan Aralica, Paul Gronseth. Cinematographer Vjekoslav Vrdoljak. Consultant to the director of photography Miroslav Ondricek. Editor John Grover. Costumes Nina Silobrcic. Music Nona Hendryx. Art directors Zeljko Senecic, Joso Spralja. Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute.
* In general release throughout Southern California.