ROME — Martin Scorsese’s passion project “Silence,” about Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in 17th-century Japan, is set to be screened at the Vatican this month for an audience comprising several hundred Jesuit priests, ahead of its initial U.S. release via Paramount on Dec. 23.
The Vatican screening, which is the long-gestating film’s de facto world premiere, is likely to have been sought, and certain to be welcomed, by Paramount. News of the Vatican “Silence” screening was first reported by The New York Times, based on an interview with Scorsese.
Variety has learned that the screening is almost certainly scheduled for Nov. 29. Scorsese has said he will attend. It is considered unlikely, though not impossible, that Pope Francis, a Jesuit himself, will be in the audience.
The Vatican is known to promote faith-based films in various ways. In 2003 Pope John Paul endorsed Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” after seeing the film in a private screening.
“Silence,” which is based on a novel by Japanese author Shusaku Endo, is about two Portuguese Jesuit priests, played by Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield, who must contend with various forms of persecution, including torture, while traveling through Japan to proselytize locals and track down their mentor, played by Liam Neeson.
While it’s not unusual for new faith-based films to screen in Vatican City for audiences largely made up by clergy, it’s rare for the Vatican to become the first place where an upcoming Hollywood release gets its first public screening.
It happened once before, in 2006, when “The Nativity Story,” directed by Catherine Hardwicke and produced by New Line, world-premiered in the roughly 7,000-seat Paul VI Hall next to St. Peter’s with Hardwicke and the film’s cast in tow. Several high-ranking cardinals were present, though then-Pope Benedict XVI did not attend.
The “Silence” screening will be a more low-key affair, in a smaller Vatican City venue. No cast members are expected to be present.
In 2015, a Pope Francis biopic produced in Italy titled “Call Me Francesco” world-premiered in the Paul VI Hall for an audience that included Rome’s homeless, parishioners of all ages from throughout the Eternal City, and nuns and priests from many different Roman Catholic orders.
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 at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Sciences for high-ranking Vatican prelates following its theatrical release. Jolie met briefly with Pope Francis after the Vatican screening, which he did not attend.