Tomás Gómez Bustillo
Watched at the Vevey International Funny Film Festival 2023
What is it like to witness a miracle, or even to think you have witnessed one? To think you are the chosen one who will be able to pass on the word? To be worshiped for it in life and certainly in death? Chronicles of a Wandering Saint tells, in a light and humorous fashion, the story of Rita, played by Mónica Villa, a childless devout Christian who believes she has witnessed a miracle, then recants, tries to consult Google, and finally becomes the miracle herself.
In his first feature film, Tomás Gómez Bustillo tenderly and ironically guides us into the imagery of a small world, of an even smaller Argentine Catholic church. A church run by devout women, who vie for the attention of the parish priest, too consecrated to his professional rather than spiritual ascendancy. Among them, the most devout is certainly Rita, who, in her meticulous devotion, venerates every object in the church, from the sacred statues to the profane pews, neglecting the affection of her husband, all in constant hope of a miracle. As it is said, he who seeks finds, and Rita finally finds her miracle – a dusty miracle embodied by the discovery of a vanished statue in a church storeroom.
And suddenly Chronicles of a Wandering Saint shatters our expectations, previously built up as an intentionally slow and quiet story, to take a much more mystical route by remaining in the real world but looking down from above. It reveals to us a new world that has always been there but veiled. In a scene as dramatic as exhilarating, set to the electronic beats of “Heaven” (Dash Berlin and Do), Rita dies. She dies in a tragicomic mad car ride that vaguely resembles a Cruella De Vil who has finally appeased her obsession with Dalmatians. Rita, elected to heaven, has her last days to say goodbye to her loved ones and savor her longed-for dream of becoming a saint – Saint Rita. She finally realizes that the miracles had always been there before her eyes, surrounding her everywhere, except perhaps in the church where she sought them so much. Even the fame of being a saint that she sought and hoped for was not what she really wished for but merely an illusion. Having overcome this illusion, she returns to her true love, to spend eternity with him, wondering, however, if her miracle was really worthwhile.
In this contemporary adaptation of the magic-realism of great South American authors such as his compatriot Jorge Luis Borges or Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Tomás Gómez Bustillo portrays the same world from two points of view: the one visible and the one that is but goes unnoticed. It prompts reflection on the blind way people tend to look at the world and the importance of doing good rather than constantly seeking it. Masterfully directed, Tomás Gómez Bustillo seeks and, unlike Rita, finds beauty in the small things, in the shots, and in the many glimpses that make us, too, wandering but veiled souls that observe the world of humans unnoticed. Chronicles of a Wandering Saint is ultimately an existential analysis of the futility of focusing on useless things and neglecting the rest. And when the eyes of the blind man see outside the Pool of Siloam, and the miracle has been performed, it is, unfortunately, often too late.
- Mario Di Luca