Review by Sean Boelman
The “young woman disillusioned with religion” theme is becoming a motif on the festival circuit — The Starling Girl being the most recent and high-profile film to fit that bill. The Argentine production A Ravaging Wind is an occasionally vexing addition to that canon, with many elements that work extraordinarily well and others that will leave viewers desiring more.
The movie follows a traveling Protestant Reverend and his daughter/assistant as their car breaks down, leading them to encounter a father-son duo who challenge each other’s understanding of themselves. A Ravaging Wind offers an intriguing combination of larger social drama and more intimate four-hander, striking an often compelling balance between the two.
As one would expect, the film is largely a commentary on religion as the conflict primarily takes the form of a crisis of faith. However, the script never goes so far as to outright condemn religion, nor even the zealots it depicts with a critical eye. Instead, the film remains firmly grounded, willing to explore both the good and the bad of the community it depicts.
Some of the best moments in the movie are those which do not discuss the themes directly, but allow the audience to come to their own conclusions. For example, the opening scene — featuring the slyly charismatic preacher giving one of his “electric” sermons — is chilling and an even more effective way of questioning faith than the portions of the film which show characters directly questioning their faith.
However, one can’t help but feel like there is something missing from the character’s arc. It just feels like there is no motivation for the protagonist to be growing disillusioned. The most obvious route that many movies take is a sexual awakening, and while that wouldn’t have exactly fit here, there needed to be something more (anything, really) to make this fully resonate.
Still, Almudena González makes the most of the material she is given, exuding a lot of emotion through her performance despite it being exceedingly quiet. Alfredo Castro is on the other end of the spectrum, with a performance that is (fittingly) flamboyant, but also thrives in the film’s quieter moments — giving the character the qualities of a snake oil salesman that allow the commentary on evangelism to work quite well.
From a technical level, the movie isn’t particularly flashy, with a very quiet, understated style. However, this is fitting and really accentuates the emotion in both the characters on the page and their actors’ performances. Hernández skillfully manages to avoid falling into melodrama, in no small part thanks to her level of restraint.
A Ravaging Wind is held back from reaching its full potential by character arcs that feel somewhat incomplete. Nevertheless, the film is an otherwise effective exploration of its themes whose strengths lie in its subtleties — both in its script and with its style.
A Ravaging Wind is screening at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 7-17 in Toronto, Canada.