SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Chronicles of a Wandering Saint shares a perspective on life that resonates with everyone. Writer-director Tomas Gomez Bustillo tells his story in two parts. Within that framework, he captures a lightbulb moment about how our existence defines us all and that perhaps having faith is not so bad.
The film follows an elderly chapel-cleaning pious woman named Rita (Mónica Villa) in a small but friendly town called Santa Rita, who competes with other chapel ladies for the attention and praise of Father Eduardo (Pablo Moseinco), which Rita’s neglected husband, Norberto (Horacio Marassi), isn’t thrilled about. When cleaning the old and worn church, Rita discovers a Santa Rita statue that was stolen years and years ago. With a bit of paint and switching the thorn crown for a cross, Rita creates a miracle and will finally be considered the most righteous person in town. But is that all it’s cracked up to be?
The first-time filmmaker cleverly and beautifully offers Rita’s story with funny, creative endearment, purposefully making the viewer take a moment to watch and absorb all that is happening. Bustillo frames shots to allow for a natural humor to present itself — nothing in Chronicles of a Wandering Saint has been forced, misplaced, or overused, including the dialogue.
“With a bit of paint and switching the thorn crown for a cross, Rita creates a miracle…”
In addition, the aesthetic choices are most pleasing. The lighting is rich and encapsulates the mood well. The production and set design also set the stage for Bustillo’s contemporary take on angels and devils and those existing in the afterlife with a glow ready for accession. The afterlife and reality are intermixed and believable with glowing halos and horns. Smartphone lights, angelic messaging, and portable music speakers are excellent choices and add spikes of humor for when the wandering Rita must understand something specific before attaining her own miracle (vague, I know, but no spoilers).
Some details capture a broader sense of purpose, such as a dog crossing in and out of Rita’s path, making a mess she must mop. And watching the elderly Rita and her husband carry Santa Rita across roads and fields from afar is where the filmmaker uses his artistic license for authentic comedy. There is plenty of it, thank god, as the leads witness certain events, but their meaning is open to interpretation. This is most helpful in revealing how devotion and competition can create compelling circumstances. The exit music for someone drowning couldn’t be more appropriate, connecting an old world to a new one, the afterlife. In the end, Rita must ask herself the one question that matters: was her miracle worth it?
What makes Chronicles of a Wandering Saint inventive and unique is Bustillo’s decisions on location, décor, and simplicity of action. These elements combine together to provide tremendous depth to a melding of worlds and beliefs captured with clever and artful decision-making. In addition, the filmmaker’s sense of humor and beauty within his storytelling is memorable and classic, like many auteurs.
Chronicles of a Wandering Saint screened at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival.
"…inventive and unique..."