Venice 2016: The Blind Christ review


★★★☆☆
"Let me tell you a story," says Michael (Michael Silva), a spiritually inspired young man in the wastes of the Chilean desert. The stories he goes on to recount will appear intermittently throughout Christopher Murray's new work The Blind Christ, which is in competition for the Golden Lion at this year's Venice Film Festival. Two boys went into the desert and one asked the other to pierce his hands with nails in imitation of Christ. That night the boy had a revelation and talked to God.

The boy has since grown up to be Michael himself. He works in a garage but when he hears that Mauricio has been injured he sets off on barefoot a pilgrimage to reunite with his old friend and to perform a healing miracle. He is ridiculed and harassed, meeting with hostility from villagers who put their faith in patron saints or not at all, resorting to drugs and drink to alleviate the crushing poverty. In fact, the poverty is almost a character in itself with much of the mise-en-scène resembling a dictionary illustration of the phrase 'dirt poor'. Except for Michael the cast is made up of non-actors and at times the film has more the feel of a community project and a worthy one at that.

Michael's spiritual road movie seems him meet up with a disparate group, from a teenage aspirant footballer, an old drug addict living in a run-down cabin, to a young woman who finds solace in Michael's willingness to listen and the to know each other, biblically. Michael himself resists any association with the church but his actions admit of biblical parallels. He's tied to a post at one point; there are baptisms in the river and then there's the force of the desert itself all around him, offering danger and revelation. Sometimes the film facilitates Michael's pilgrimage too easily. His stories - more anecdotes than parables - seem to have the power to convince out of proportion to their actual power.

Likewise, other people are converted to Michael perhaps simply because he represents a break to the crushing monotony of their lives. Ultimately, Murray's film does not lose itself in the miracles and rejects the magical realism that could have been a cop out to the enigma of faith and the real problem of suffering and particularly poverty in the world. The Blind Christ is a mysterious piece. Its resonance is not as long-lasting as one would hope and its insight seems, if not blind, then a little blinkered.

The Venice Film Festival takes place from 31 August-10 September. For our coverage follow this link.

John Bleasdale | @drjonty

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