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Chronicles of a Wandering Saint Film Review

A man with a white aureola over his head takes a picture of a woman sitting down in a room in the film Chronicles of a Wandering Saint

Brimming with love for the mundane, Tomás Gómez Bustillo’s Chronicles of a Wandering Saint is a charming depiction of religion and modern life.

Director: Tomás Gómez Bustillo
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 84′
US Release: June 28 – July 19, 2024 (limited)
UK Release: TBA
Where to watch: in theaters

For a comedy about the everyday miracles that go unnoticed in our lives, it’s fitting that the gags in Chronicles of a Wandering Saint don’t come thick and fast, but slowly and gently. Argentine stage and screen veteran Mónica Villa puts in a delightful understated performance in this first feature film from Tomás Gómez Bustillo, which clocks in at a slender 84 minutes but makes every frame count.

Everyone in the tiny town of Santa Rita is waiting for a miracle, not least Rita (Villa), a devout elderly chapel keeper desperate for her piety to be noticed by the powers that be. She is locked in almost unspoken competition with other local female churchgoers, each of them craving the attention of Father Eduardo (Pablo Moseinco). The prideful priest enjoys his role as the closest thing the town has to a celebrity and is all too keen to proclaim a miracle whenever an unusual incident befalls Santa Rita. That’s where our protagonist comes in; inspired to fast-track her journey to sainthood, Rita ‘discovers’ a statue of her and her town’s holy namesake thought to be long lost, and is supported by her faithful husband Norberto (Horacio Marassi) in the setup of a risky ruse.

What begins as a low-key domestic comedy soon veers into the world of magic realism, even pure fantasy, as Rita meets the consequences of her lie. However, at the heart of Chronicles of a Wandering Saint are always the interpersonal dynamics of this small Argentine town, particularly the petty jealousies of the local churchgoers and the relationship between Rita and Norberto.

Villa and Marassi make for a charming central duo; Rita has all the discipline and earnestness of a good Catholic, while Norberto is more romantic, seeing God’s work in the little things. Much of the film’s humour derives from the pair’s clashing worldviews; while she dedicates herself to God, he plans trips, learns the guitar, and admires the way two pairs of trousers blow in the wind, ‘dancing’, as he puts it, on the washing line. Both are charming in their own ways and the two performers are utterly convincing as a husband and wife who have grown old together.

Husband and wide sit at the dinner table wearing bright yellow raincoats and drinking yellow water in the film Chronicles of a Wandering Saint
Chronicles of a Wandering Saint (Hope Runs High)

Another entertaining dichotomy is the contrast between the mysticism of the church and its mundane manifestation in the modern world. We see Rita updating her Facebook page, parishioners playing hymns (badly) on electric keyboards, and a wikiHow article titled ‘What to do if you experience a miracle’. And then there’s a darkly comic early credits sequence set to DJ Sammy’s 2001 Eurodance hit ‘Heaven’, a perfect encapsulation of the film’s absurdist bent.

Like everything else in the film, Pablo Lozano’s cinematography is pared back, consisting for the most part of static medium and wide shots that manifest the stillness of life in Santa Rita and its apparent insignificance among the vast surrounding countryside. The interplay between light and shade is always important in a film about divinity, and the filmmakers opt for a unique approach to this theme. At first, it’s played for laughs – when the sun pierces the church’s windows and envelops Rita as she prays, her peers wonder if she sat there on purpose to look saintly. Later, in the film’s more fantastical scenes, a very slight use of CGI offers a suitably minimalist depiction of the celestial world.

Initially it’s hard to tell if Chronicles of a Wandering Saint is mocking or embracing its characters, their parochial small-town lives depicted with a certain degree of condescension and their religious dedication appearing to be a fool’s errand. In the hands of a less forgiving filmmaker, this could have been a more scornful work, but Gómez Bustillo directs with such affection that it’s hard not to share his belief in the beauty of the everyday. Humble and heartwarming, this divine comedy is a touching portrait of ordinary human life.

Chronicles of a Wandering Saint will opens in New York on June 28, 2024 at the IFC Center, in LA on July 5 at the Lumiere Cinema, and in San Francisco on July 19 at the Roxie.

Chronicles of a Wandering Saint: Trailer (Hope Runs High)
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