Dir:Luis Alberto Restrepo. Colombia, 2009. 86 min.
The Church, the Army and the Insurgency, the three leading protagonistsof Latin American cinema, are once again at odds in this allegorical tale of a jolly, well-intentioned Catholic priest, dispatched by his superiors to a small mountain village where he does all the wrong things by trying too hard to do the right thing. Luis Alberto Restrepo’s second film (after 2003’s The First Night), took the Best Actor honours for Andres Parra at Guadalajara and this high-spirited parable could be set for a solid festival career and even theatrical success in South America.
On arrival in the Colombian backwoods, Father Gabriel cheerfully breaks every unspoken rule in the territory he has been entrusted with. Almost folkloristic in its approach, with rough-edged but lively performances from most of the cast, Gabriel’s Passion may take place in Colombia but would thematically fit into several other Central American territories. Since most other films dealing with these matters are usually far grimmer and angrier, this light and at times even sacrilegious fable could reach a wider market with the right support.
Young, portly padre Father Gabriel (Parra) innocently barges into his new rural assignment, determined to do good and actually help his congregation, whether they like it or not. Charming everyone with his smiling, accommodating disposition, his disregard for ceremony, his eager regard for everybody’s needs, he energetically forges ahead until he unintentionally antagonises all around him, from the peasants in his congregation to the rebel camp in the mountain, the military posted in the next town and the Ecclesiastic authorities further afield.
Never taking no for an answer, he wears off his original welcome by insisting on doing the right thing and disregarding any practical impediments. For example, Father Gabriel believes the village’s rickety bridge needs to be fixed so the peasants can bring their products to town to sell. But the rebels in the mountains realise that a bridge would bring the army into their back yard, which is exactly what happens when Father Gabriel gets his way.
With ineffectual corrupt politicians as a backdrop, the army kicks into action, throwing schoolchildren into jail and prompting Father Gabriel to meddle again by calling the media into this small down. The rebels draft his altar boy against his will, and the energetic padre once again becomes involved. In the midst of all this, he tosses his vows of celibacy aside and starts sleeping with a winsome local girl.
Luscious equatorial backdrops, blue skies and stereotyped supporting characters provide the backdrop for this tale which is almost too light-hearted, giving its ending is inevitably tragic. Bear-like Andres Perra carries the show on his large shoulders, blending unconscious saintliness with human weakness, all the while dressed in simple peasant clothing and sweating profusely under the burning sun. His character may not always make sense, but many will consider this to be part of his charm. Briskly edited and colourfully designed, Gabriel’s Passion shows that even if the padre’s merry dance leads to a sad ending, the people who knew him would feel better for it.
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Diego Vasquez Moncayo
Luis Alberto Restrepo
Sergio Garcia Moreno
Maria Cecilia Sanchez
Diego Javier Vasquez Camayo