See, the art of making a film has been and likely always will be a personal experience. Storytellers of all varieties seek to ‘touch the sky’ with tales of unique inspiration, and occasionally this means that what they might have to say is casually beyond the scope of their audience. I’ve heard this said more simply – not every film is for every viewer – but I’ve always thought that particular take implies that the ideas are ‘beyond the scope’ of some, a position I believe flawed. We all have the ability to receive a message from any film; the big difference is that we don’t have to agree with it, much less like it.
This is my argument both against and for writer/director Chema Garcia Ibarra’s The Sacred Spirit: it’s both accessible and inaccessible depending upon how much research you’re willing to undertake. A reasonable amount of reading might make the average viewer enjoy it much more, but who goes into the act of watching a movie with a willingness to expand one’s horizons both before and after? I’d say that’s a small number, and that’s always going to limit one’s reach.
But I suspect Ibarra’s perfectly comfortable with that.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“A missing girl. A community in shock. Jose Manuel lives a quiet life. He works in his modest tapas bar, takes care of his elderly mother and attends weekly meetings of the Ovni-Levante, a group of devoted UFO enthusiasts who gather after hours at the office of a local estate agent to exchange information about extra-terrestrial messages and alien abductions. When their leader dies unexpectedly, only Jose is left to know the cosmic secret that could alter the future of humanity. And only Jose knows what he must do.”
It's a bit of a misnomer to advertise The Sacred Spirit as Science Fiction, for which I’ve seen it characterized in several places. Rather, it only uses some of Science Fiction ideas as narrative flavoring with which to weave a bit of a deadpan social satire that kinda/sorta criticizes our world as a whole as much as it praises regular folks for aspiring to believe in something bigger than themselves. It’s both an indictment and acquittal of simpletons who look to the stars for the answers more likely found much closer to home.
The closest comparison to what I believe Ibarra attempts (and achieves here) would be a nod to the films of Christopher Guest. His dry yet witty mockumentaries Waiting For Guffman (1996), Best In Show (2000), and A Mighty Wind (2003) celebrated what cinema might call ‘the little people,’ that meaning ordinary people who attempt the extraordinary because of their personal beliefs. Though others might find these various characters misfits, Guest’s narrative celebrates their unique individuality and their respective unflinching quest to do great things against the most oppressive force we know: life itself. These ‘little people’ dream big, and they’ll continue to reach for more in their existence because of who they are, not because they get any measure of reward from it.
Similarly, Ibarra’s Spirit is populated by homegrown oddballs. A real estate mogul who insists he was abducted by aliens. A one-eyed woman constantly badgered by the spirit of her late husband. A stroke victim with the ability to contact the deceased. They’re all thrown together against the backdrop of a society that can, might, and likely will believe in anything – whether proven or not – for no better reason than it lifts them out of their current humdrum existence into a place where even the unthinkable is possible. To them and their culture, aliens aren’t only real but they’ve been around since the dawn of man: only the truly foolish fails to see that certainty.
Still, as all good things must end, reality intrudes. That real estate agent was using his business as a front for child pornography and organ trafficking. That one-eyed woman might eventually commit suicide as a consequence for not being able to live with the other voices in her head. And the truth of communicating with those who have passed over is that there’s nothing there to communicate with … that hard, cold splash in the UFO club receives when they find that their chosen day arrives and passes without the promised celestial ascension. Otherwise, it’s back to work the next day … but that doesn’t mean one still can’t believe.
The Sacred Spirit (2021) was produced by Jaibo Films, Apellaniz & De Sosa, La Fabrica Nocturna Cinema, and Teferruat Film. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the spectacular Arrow Films. As for the technical specifications? Though I’m no video expert, I found the sights and sounds to be consistently high quality from start-to-finish.
As for the special features? Again, Arrow’s reputation is spotless once more as this two-disc collection includes:
- A series of short features exploring the film and its locations;
- Several making-of shorts made during the film’s production;
- An extensive interview with writer/director Ibarra;
- Several promotional videos;
- Excised clips of the faux TV and faux news clips from the feature film;
- Image gallery and trailers;
- Collector’s booklet (with essay) and associated artwork; and
- A second disc complete with Ibarra’s short films, all of which are Science Fiction related.
The verdict? Mildly recommended.
As I said above, The Sacred Spirit required a bit of research, some of which might be owed to the fact that a bit of nuance gets lost in translation. Ibarra’s film combines the real and the unreal with an unvarnished eye – almost like he’s trying to capture something in documentary-style. My problem with it is that I don’t go to the movies to see documentaries – I prefer story over dry facts – so pacing issues aside I hung with this one because I trusted it was going somewhere. It was … though it occasionally tested my patience in getting there. This will not be for everyone, though I suspect film festival lovers will tap it up heartily.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Arrow Video provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of The Sacred Spirit by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.