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'The Blind Christ': Venice Review

Dir/scr. Christopher Murray. Chile/France, 2016. 85 mins.

Working largely with non-professional actors from Chile’s poor northern desert regions, local director Christopher Murray crafts a slow-paced but absorbing fable about a young mechanic who believes he has, possibly, been chosen by God to perform miracles. That little seed of self-doubt grounds and humanises this Latin American spin on a theme explored in films from Ordet to Whistle Down the Wind: like its protagonist and the arid, mining-ravaged landscapes he walks through, Murray’s second feature is suspended between exaltation and bathos, savage beauty and disillusionment.

There’s a good deal of pathos and humour in the way this parable is played out

The Blind Christ is as much a Chilean road movie as an alternative religious fable, and this double nature is cleverly exploited by a story that gradually gains depth and traction as Christ figure Michael – played with quiet intensity by the film’s only professional actor, Michael Silva – embarks on a long journey through a mineral, dust-choked land to find a childhood friend who is now ill and crippled, and – possibly – heal him.

DoP Inti Briones’ warm, painterly camerawork and a moody, swarming tonal soundtrack by cellist and composer Alexander Zekke help to seal a confidently-directed package that has good arthouse potential.

When Michael was still a boy, he asked his best friend Mauricio ‘Mauri’ Pinto to nail one of his hands to a tree (we wince, despite the tasteful camera angle and edit). Later, God spoke to him from a fire. Now all grown up, with the thin, haunted appearance of many false or true messiahs, Michael repairs bicycles and other bits of machinery in a roadside workshop; he’s derided as ‘the prophet’ by most of the people in his town, and his depressed, widowed father wants nothing to do with his son’s self-imposed cross.

Michael yearns for a bigger challenge, one that will reveal whether his God-given faith stretches beyond mending bike punctures – and it promptly comes when he hears that Mauri, who left to work in the mines of the Tarapacá region years before, is in a bad way.

So begins a walk through the wilderness that stays just on the healthy, leeward side of symbolic solemnity. When Michael is tied to a pole in a village he passes through for disrespecting a much-venerated statue of Saint Lawrence, there’s no New Testament flagellation; in fact he’s released by a sympathetic villager. In a beautifully shot sequence he helps her wash her ageing mother.

There’s a Mary Magdalen figure – the abused mother of a soccer-mad boy who tags along with Michael on his barefoot trek across the dusty landscape. “Are you a mechanic or a priest?” she asks just before he lays expert hands on the engine of a long-defunct car in her backyard, and it springs to life. That evening, he allows himself to be seduced, just as later, he allows himself to be talked into administering the sacrament of baptism, in a Tarapacá version of the River Jordan , for an Indos congregation whose priest has abandoned them.

What The Blind Christ seems to be circling around is the intuition that miracles are created as much, if not more, by those pure, simple souls that believe in them as they are by those that perform them – leaving Michael, who is neither zealot not charlatan, feeling hemmed in by his growing word-of-mouth fame, pressured to do something remarkable.

There’s a good deal of pathos and humour in the way this intuition is played out – for example in the parables with which Michael regales those he meets along the way. They never seem quite fit for purpose, and as often as not leave their listeners baffled. Yet the genuine performances Murray coaxes out of his first-time actors, who seem at times to be enacting or recounting their own difficult lives, prevent this delicate, more human than divine film from going too far down this road, and falling into the trap of auterish irony and knowingness.

Production companies: Jirafa

International sales: Film Factory Entertainment, info@filmfactory.es

Producers: Augusto Matte, Thierry Lenouvel

Executive producers: Bruno Bettati, Pedro Fontaine, Florencia Larrea, Joaquin Echeverria

Cinematography: Inti Briones

Editor: Andrea Chignoli

Production designer: Angela Torti

Music: Alexander Zekke

Main cast: Michael Silva, Bastián Inostroza, Ana María Henríquez, Mauricio Pinto,
Pedro Godoy, Hermelinda Cayo, Héctor Mella, Gonzalo Villalobos, Noelia Rubio