Tag Along With Chronicles of a Wandering Saint For Metaphysical Comedy

Movies Reviews Tomás Gómez Bustillo
Tag Along With Chronicles of a Wandering Saint For Metaphysical Comedy

Writer/director Tomás Gómez Bustillo opens his feature debut, the spritely Chronicles of a Wandering Saint, with a low-key jab at piety: A woman kneels praying in a church pew, bathed in sunlight that peeks in through the windows. When the light shifts ever so slightly to her left, she scooches over, surreptitious as can be, to avoid notice from her fellow churchgoers and give the appearance that the light is following her rather than the other way around. 

The woman is Rita (Mónica Villa), a woman of genuine devotion nonetheless compelled by a godliness complex. Rita is to worship as Daniel Plainview is to oil: She wants no one else to succeed. It’s a strange and self-contradicting quirk: Faking piety should theoretically bar one from entry into God’s kingdom. Rita, for her supposed meekness, is as vain as her faith is true; it’s a testament to the complications of spiritual belief that the two coexist within her without snapping her brain. Humans are, after all, imperfect, and committing to religious practice has a way of throwing our imperfections into sharp relief. If we adhere to dogma, we’re setting an expectation that we stick to its guidelines and rules. 

Chronicles of a Wandering Saint maintains unflagging awareness of what it means to believe, and to worship and, maybe most of all, to hope. It’s one thing to have faith; it’s another to live a whole life without seeing your faith rewarded. Bustillo extends a great deal of sympathy to Rita, who aches to see a miracle in her lifetime – even if that means staging one, which clangs hard against at least two of the Ten Commandments. When Rita uncovers what she thinks is the long-ago-vanished statue of Rita of Cascia, she sneaks it back to her house, her long-suffering husband Norberto (Horacio Marassi) in tow; later, she asks Father Eduardo (Pablo Moseinco) for his take on whether or not it’s a sign. He tells her it’s a miracle. It isn’t, of course; it’s a terrible fabrication. But that won’t stop Rita from convincing her friends and neighbors otherwise.

The consequences of her scam lead the story to what may well be the single greatest bit of misdirection any filmmaker has attempted in the cinema of the 2020s, pivoting into territory tinged with magical realism from Latin American tradition. Poor Rita gets what she’s long sought: Faith rewarded. But Bustillo focuses on the cost of her search instead of simply basking in its closure, effectively splitting Chronicles of a Wandering Saint into two distinct but intrinsically connected halves. The film poses complex questions about the end goal of faith, and what it means to be faced with the very thing faith navigates us toward, further knotted up by the options for faith’s ultimate realization: Afterlife or Earth, ascend or remain. 

Bustillo introduces these snags with a gentle hand, in keeping with his film’s abiding aesthetic. Chronicles of a Wandering Saint is wry with a side of quirk, unblinking in facing its subject matter head-on while refusing to pull punches; it isn’t without mercy, either. If there’s a time in a person’s life when mercy is required, it’s Rita’s time, and if her own relationship with Christianity is strained by her egotism and chicanery, then Bustillo’s relationship with Christianity is constitutionally forgiving. With Chronicles of a Wandering Saint, he argues that we cannot be defined by our unflattering qualities alone; people are not the sum total of their sins and transgressions. 

Villa holds the film’s center, with her supporting cast members given considerably smaller windows for leaving an impression. Chronicles of a Wandering Saint is rooted entirely in her perspective and consciousness, and baked with her neuroses. Rita is so ironically hell-bent on making a miracle happen that everyone around her only enters into her periphery for as long as they’re necessary to affirm her worldview or challenge her ranking as the town’s most righteous (though others might say “sanctimonious”) resident. 

Bustillo’s visual sensibility offsets Rita’s rigid outlook. Softness is key to cinematographer Pablo Lozano’s compositions, which almost uniformly include light as a primary motif, whether artificial or natural: A smartphone screen here, a streetlight there, the sun over there, whether at dawn or dusk. Certain moments, like that opening shot, lend Chronicles of a Wandering Saint the feel of Renaissance paintings, pairing vibrant and cool colors with an encompassing emphasis on interplay between light and shadow. But Bustillo doesn’t present the film as seriously as the comparison implies. He’s playful, a quality essential to what makes his character-driven examination of faith work with a sublime ease. The joke isn’t on Rita, exactly. Rather, it’s the painful process of witnessing faith brought to fruition. Rita is lost. Chronicles of a Wandering Saint grants her the blessing of being found, which is worth all the discomfort and grief she bears along her way.

Director: Tomás Gómez Bustillo
Writer: Tomás Gómez Bustillo
Starring: Mónica Villa, Horacio Marassi, Iair Said, Nahiel Correa Dornell, Pablo Moseinco, Silvia Porro, Hernán Bustamante, Dahyana Turkie, Noemí Ron, Ana Silvia Mackenzie, Mauricio Minetti
Release Date: July 5, 2024

Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.

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