Thursday 2 February 2023

The Sacred Spirit

Eye Society

The Sacred Spirit
Spain/France/Turkey 2021
Directed by Chema García Ibarra
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Full on spoilers so I can discuss this one properly.

Written and directed by Chema García Ibarra, The Sacred Spirit is his first feature length movie following on from a number of shorts. I asked for this one for Christmas because Arrow have given it a nice double Blu Ray release, including many of the director’s shorts and because, from the way it’s been marketed, I assumed it was a science fiction movie of some kind. So imagine my surprise when, after tearing off the wrapping paper, the consumer advice next to the 15 rating provided by the BBFC read, “Contains child sex abuse references”. Yeah, right... because nothing sums up the season’s greetings better than child sex abuse references, I guess. Actually, having now seen the film I’m glad I got this because it is absolutely riveting stuff although, I’m now not sure why the BBFC have classified this as anything other than a U or PG, since there is no visual imagery in this which could be in any way offensive to anyone. Are the BBFC now censoring things because of ‘a sense of gravitas’ maybe? Who knows what gets into their weird minds but, yeah, this is a really interesting film, for sure.

The film looks at central protagonist José Manuel, played by Nacho Fernández, who is part of the Ovni-Levante Association of UFOlogy, who meet weekly. Those meetings are hosted by José’s elderly alien abductee friend, who has been running the group. Simultaneous to this is the parallel tale of José’s sister Charo, played by Joanna Valverde. One of her twin, 10 year old daughters has gone missing and she is trying to cope with the situation. Then, when the president of the UFO group dies and leaves the documentation of the group to José, to continue the meetings (literally one box file with a few artefacts... including a mysterious key), things start to come to light. As the story progresses we learn that José’s bar, Bar Charley, filled with iconic Egyptian iconography matching the UFO and occult interests of José, has been where the long since gone twin daughter has been kept. Similarly, as José grooms the other daughter for going off with a new character with throat cancer, who talks to José through a voice box and claims to be channeling the dead UFO group president, it becomes clear... to the audience at least... that the late head of the group and his business partners were abducting children.

Now, I’m sure some people will see José as responsible for the evil things done to the kids... which turns out to be harvesting their corneas for the mafia to sell to people in need of these, after they’ve been sexually molested and used for child porn by the former ‘abductee’ and his associate but, if you look at this film carefully, while it’s certainly true that José is aiding and abetting this infernal practice, there’s a lot pointing towards the fact that he may be just as much a victim of these people as the girls he has prepared for them.

As we go through the ritualistic minutia of José’s UFO and paranormal obsession... the film is full of occult references and symbolism, with José’s dementia ridden mother herself once a powerful clairvoyant (with all evidence pointing towards her still possessing those talents)... it becomes clear from things he has to ask the ‘reincarnated/channelled abductee’ as part of their preparation that he genuinely believes he is helping people prepare the ‘special children’ to be subjected to an ancient ritual and be reincarnated as a sphinx-like creature who will make all their lives better. So, while not innocent of the crime of abduction... and I’m sure people will have differing views on this... he seems innocent, or rather oblivious, of the real use that these children are being put to.

And it’s not a film which makes its point and story beats in a straight forward, in your face way, for sure (otherwise it might well have deserved that ridiculous 15 certificate rating the BBFC have saddled it with) but rather through the use of what is not said as much as anything. There are random incidents which interrupt the narrative (such as explosions in the distance, distracting conversations) and it’s often through what’s not made clear that story indications are driven.

This follows through on the visual compositions too which, with an almost overdose of eye symbolism leading the idea of voyeurism or surveillance as a visual metaphor... not to mention tying into the whole Egyptian symbology... also helps focus on the suggestion that there is more going on than what might at first appear on the surface. Indeed, the director does tend to dislocate the viewer from expected modes of visual engagement on occasion. So he’ll throw a big object up in front of the camera which will be moving (or in the case of the last shot of the film, growing/expanding) to either conceal visual information or reveal fresh details as the specific shot plays out. Or he might put so much visual layering on the majority of the screen that the audience is forced to concentrate on a small area of the screen to catch the main action... such as in a long shot where José goes to the kitchen, represented as a vertical slab of doorway in the centre of the screen down a long corridor, while the second daughter is being ‘interviewed’ in another room of the house.

It’s all interesting stuff and, I suspect, it is this indirect way of communicating the bigger story beats, rather than bringing it all out onto the surface at once (like a lot of modern cinema does in the English speaking world), which makes the grim subject matter all the more palpable and just generally more disturbing... way more than it might have been captured as by a lesser writer/director. So good for him.

So yeah, I’d have to say that, while the subject matter of The Sacred Spirit is less than palatable for most people, I would have thought, the film is certainly an important and slow burn presentation of these story beats and, because of the interesting visual style, also a pleasure to watch (if you can divorce yourself from the problematic content lurking below the surface).

Arrow’s new two disc presentation of the film is brilliant with a load of the director’s short films presented on the second disc (I’ve watched the first three so far and they’re very funny, absurdist, low budget masterpieces) and with a first disc that includes a full raft of extras, including an excellent visual essay by the great Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on the Eye Of Horus and the use of the eyeball and surveillance elements dotted throughout the visual landscape of the film. So, yeah, despite being taken by surprise in terms of the underlying content of the picture, I was really pleased with this one and would certainly recommend it to people. Grab the two disc edition with the extra disc and the booklet from Arrow while you still can, would be my advice.

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