Saturday, March 22, 2014

BFI Flare: La Pasión de Michelangelo (2012)

[The Passion Of Michelangelo]

In 1983, a small town in Chile called Penablanca became the centre of attention due to a controversial local ‘miracle’.  A young boy named Miguel Angel claimed to be able to speak directly with the Virgin Mary.  This might seem somewhat dubious, but to an extremely devout catholic town in a country ruled by the dictator General Pinochet it was a miracle from heaven.

The young boy lived with a priest, Father Alcazar who would lead him up to the top of a hill and relay his metaphysical conversation over a speaker-system to a crowd of adoring fans.  This eventually led to a priest, Father Ruiz Tagle, being sent by the central church authorities to discover whether the boy was authentic or just an elaborate hoax as more and more people begin to make the pilgrimage to Miguel’s small town.

Director/producer Esteban Larraín tells this story without judgment on the townsfolk and their passionate beliefs focusing mainly on the lives of the boy (Sebastián Ayala), the local priest (Luis Alarcon), the visiting priest (Patricio Contreras) and a skeptical local photographer (Roberto Farías) who begins to document the phenomenon.

The Passion of Michelangelo

Miguel grows increasingly aware of his celebrity and power so begins to grow complacent and rebellious testing his followers to undertake humiliating commands like taking off their shoes and eating dirt. 

The townspeople live in a state of uncertainty and fear about the state of the government and the army, with quiet talk of revolution amongst the men.  This fear is clearly a factor in their unquestioning belief in Miguel’s story; they just need something to hold on to.  Larraín’s film is littered with religious iconography such as candle shrines and rosemary beads so the audience can never doubt the sincerity of their faith.

This religious fervor is also seemingly good for the state as it distracts people from their brutality – such as the growing number of army checkpoints – which is also heightened by the unlikeable Father Alcazar telling the people that they should “pray for the president…” proving that the clergy relies on a strict government so that people will turn to the church.

The Passion of Michelangelo

As a backstory to the main narrative, Miguel also begins to explore his sexuality with a number of his young friends who he collects as ‘disciples’.  The representation of his questioning behavior is not given as a motivator for his actions, but is simply a part of who he is.  This use of homoeroticism as a background theme instead of a plot device to further the narrative is a refreshingly realistic depiction of onscreen sexuality.

After premiering at the 2013 Göteborg International Film Festival, La Pasión has only had a theatrical release in its home country Chile.  But given the quality of the cinematography, the absurdity of the narrative and the great central performances, it should definitely hope to secure a worldwide release.