Review by Sean Boelman
Frequent festival-goers have learned that some film descriptions tend to be a bit misleading to keep viewers from having inaccurate preconceived notions. For those who are willing to be patient with it through its somewhat meandering first act, Chronicles of a Wandering Saint is one of the most perplexing and engaging movies of the festival.
The film follows a woman who, feeling discontent with her restrained, pious lifestyle, discovers a situation that might skyrocket her to sainthood. Although the premise doesn’t sound particularly innovative or interesting, it’s impossible to talk about the true charm of the story without ruining its surprises.
Part of what makes this movie so interesting is that its first thirty minutes are *radically* different from the rest of the runtime. The introduction provides some much-needed context — in terms of both theme and characterization — but otherwise plays as a relatively standard (albeit mostly strong) domestic melodrama.
It is in the break to the second act that the film absolutely goes wild and becomes something much more surreal and innovative. It’s hard to describe exactly what the movie is without spoiling its surprises, but the best comparisons are the surrealistic films of filmmakers like Quentin Dupieux, or perhaps even shades of Everything Everywhere All at Once.
One of the movie’s few weaknesses is its character development. Bustillo attempts to use the protagonist’s internalized struggles with religion as an element of character development, but this is something we have seen done other times before. Nevertheless, the film’s heroine is still quite compelling.
Since the movie is very heavily centered around its protagonist, Mónica Villa’s leading performance was pivotal. And while she is not as well-known to American audiences, Villa is a tremendously talented and accomplished actress, and she brings her all to this role. It’s a subtle, unflashy role, and she thrives in the nuance.
The film also has some very strong technical elements despite its seemingly minuscule budget. It’s a case where a little goes a long way, as simple visual effects do an amazing job of creating this quirky, askew world for the movie. It’s not the type of maximalist world-building that audiences might be used to, instead opting for something more weird and uncanny.
After a bit of a rocky start, Chronicles of a Wandering Saint ends up being one of the most unusual and unique films of this year’s SXSW. Tomás Gómez Bustillo took many ambitious swings with his first feature, and they mostly pay off.
Chronicles of a Wandering Saint is screening at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 10-18 in Austin, TX.