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Martin Scorsese Gets Standing Ovation at First LA ‘Silence’ Screening

Historical drama starring Andrew Garfield opens in limited release December 23

Martin Scorsese got a hero’s welcome on Sunday at the first public L.A. screening for his new film “Silence,” starring Andrew Garfield as a Jesuit priest in 17th-century Japan.

The crowd of nearly 700 gave the director and co-writer a standing ovation at Westwood’s Village Theater, bolstering the growing consensus that the historical drama will be a major awards contender.

The capacity audience included studio guests, press and Academy members who all seemed to welcome the maestro’s latest as an unusually contemplative work that continues his long cinematic grappling with his Roman Catholic faith.

“My own concern with religion and with faith particularly somehow changed over the years, through many different films too,” the director told moderator and fellow filmmaker James Gray during a lively Q&A following the screening. “This film enabled me to not only think about [my faith] but work it.”

In fact, Scorsese has worked off and on for 28 years to bring Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel to the screen. And while reviews are embargoed until closer to the film’s Dec. 23 release date, it’s safe to say that his efforts look to play a significant factor in the awards race this season.

In addition to being a contender for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, for which Scorsese shares credit with Jay Cocks, at least two performances in “Silence” stand out: Garfield’s lead role as a Jesuit priest whose faith is tested under the increasingly violent persecution of Christian clergy and followers by the emperor’s Inquisitor; and veteran Japanese actor Issey Ogata as the inquisitor himself.

“Marty would always say, ‘That’s great, excellent, now one more,” Ogata told the crowd through an interpreter, to much familiar laughter. (The actor, first spotted by Scorsese for his work in Alexandr Sokurov’s 2005 film “The Sun,” was named runner-up for Best Supporting Actor on Sunday by the L.A. Film Critics Association.)

Scorsese said that Ogata had already brought much of the character’s onscreen movements to the audition: “Using the fans, swatting the flies, the dust in his mouth, the moment he decides to deflate — we all looked at each other and said, ‘OK.'”

Garfield also had high praise for his co-star’s work. “It was like a sitting in a room with a snake charmer, and you were the snake and also the person about to be eaten,” the British actor said.

In addition, you can expect Paramount Pictures to make an awards push for Rodrigo Prieto’s lush cinematography, Dante Ferretti’s period-perfect production and costume design and Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing.

“Marty has always been extremely daring. He’ll try anything,” Schoonmaker told the crowd.

“Some of these effects are out of necessity,” Scorsese admitted, noting a dialogue-free scene in “Raging Bull” in which they didn’t have enough coverage and a pool scene in “Wolf of Wall Street” where they sped up the middle of a right-to-left pan because “the shot was taking just a little too long.”

Scorsese also shared details of his recent visit to the Vatican, where he screened “Silence” in a chapel (“the screen wasn’t very big, but the entire film played under this very big crucifix,” he said) and had a personal meeting with Pope Francis.

“Meeting with the pope was an early morning — it was 9 o’clock. I’m a New Yorker,” he said to laughter. “We were given very strict protocol … but he was most disarming. I told him that Andrew had gone through the 30 days of spiritual exercises of the Jesuits. And the next thing for Andrew was to be ordained. But that instead he got me. And he laughed. It was quite moving.”

Pope Francis had read Endo’s novel, Scorsese said, adding that the Jesuit-trained pontiff told him, “I hope the story of the film bears much fruit.”