Sebastián Lelio charges against religious fanaticism in ‘The Wonder’

Posts to generalize, we could say that the Chilean Sebastian Lelio makes movies about women trying to make their way in almost always oppressive environments and contaminated by a typically masculine reactionary zeal. And, to summarize, let’s also say that the director’s new fiction of titles like ‘Gloria’ (2013) and ‘A Fantastic Woman’ (2017), thanks to which he is competing for the Golden Shell this year, is exactly that. ‘The Wonder’ Set in rural Ireland in the 19th century, it stars a nurse hired to investigate a an 11-year-old girl who apparently hasn’t eaten for four monthsand to which the local patriarchs are impatient to proclaim a divine miracle.

But Lelio’s cinema is much more than feminist vindication and, therefore, ‘The Wonder’, too. Although its plot similarities with ‘The Exorcist’ (1973) and the thick gloomy atmosphere that surrounds it connect with horror movies, it is something else: a reflection on the power of stories, those that society tells us to convince and submit us and those that we believe about ourselves; and religion, of course, is one more of those narratives, especially illustrative about that power.

‘The Wonder’ opposes religion and science, belief and evidence, and argues that both faith and the empirical are necessary. Also shows first frustration and then barely contained anger against the uses and abuses that are made in the name of God. It is not a film against religion but an attack on extremism and fanaticism, forceful without the need to resort to melodramatic histrionics, and rabidly current as it is populated by characters who deny all those facts and truths that do not agree with their own ideas. For some reason, yes, it opens and closes with a pretentious ‘Bretchian’ device that not only destroys the fourth wall absolutely gratuitously but also seems to show that Lelio does not trust the viewer’s ability to understand.

30 films in 25 years

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Another of the big names present this year in the competition of the Donostiarra contest is Hong Sang-sooand the film that has been presented is, if possible, more austere and naked than those that make up his recent production. Told in three parts, each of which takes place on a different floor of a building -the temporal relationship they maintain between them is uncertain-, ‘walk-up’ accompanies a filmmaker through a series of conversations with women; she watches him age, start and end relationships, lose both his health and his creative inspiration. And while he contemplates this character who is surely a copy of himself, the Korean is particularly melancholic and, at the same time, mischievous when questioning himself about the profession. Does it make sense for a filmmaker to complete movies as if he were a machine just to stay active, the character wonders. ‘Walk Up’, for what it’s worth as an answer, is Hong’s 30th film release in 25 years.

‘The Kings of the world’on the other hand, is only the third feature film by the Colombian Laura Mora; He also aspires to the list of winners that will be announced on Saturday and, in fact, has a high chance of entering it. Its premise has political scaffolding -the threats and murders suffered by those Colombians who fight for the restitution of the lands that were stolen from them by paramilitary groups-, but its storyline is essentially a juvenile version of those stories about groups of characters who go into the jungle in search of of his own version of El Dorado, only to discover that the promised lands almost never keep their promises. What allows her to transcend the archetype is Mora’s extraordinary ability to orchestrate and compose images that, in different ways -because of their violence, their muscle, their poetry, their sadness- are overwhelming.

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