The lights went up at the end of this black Chilean drama and Alex said, “That’s my film of the festival, I loved it!” and I said, “That was crap. What on earth was that film about?” It just shows you, doesn’t it? No, not that Alex has bad taste in films (although it is possible…) but that our film experiences are as much about ourselves as the film. Okay. so maybe I didn’t think it was crap, but I didn’t get what it was trying to say. It was a bleak film, and although there were small moments of warmth and humanity, the topic perhaps ensures that these were overwhelmed by darkness.
In a remote Chilean coastal town, a handful of excommunicated Catholic priests live in exile and hiding. They must live secretly – the inference being that they are avoiding criminal punishment by being offered sanctuary – and they are also expected to live in penance. They are looked after by a nun, who we can see is also an outcast, and although they are supposed to have no community life, they train and race a much-loved greyhound with the help of the nun. Then a man arrives at their gate and begins shouting all of the things that one of the priests did to him as a child, risking their privacy, confronting them with their sins and starting a tragic chain of events.
What works about this film is how the true natures of the characters slowly emerge. There is an underlying menace and it is awhile before you realise where it is coming from. This is beautifully done. It is difficult to like any of the characters, I’m sure this is deliberate, but it makes their fates less affecting. A fair proportion of the film is also made using a dodgy lens, something that kept intruding for me.
I think what the film is trying to say is that we all have sins that we deny and that the hardest thing is to be truly penitent. A truth worth meditating on.