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The Sacred Spirit (Espíritu sagrado)

This cautionary tale of believing in conspiracy theories is greatly abetted by a strong aesthetic and some eye-catching imagery - live from Locarno


When the Egyptians built the Pyramids, it was a marvel of engineering so ahead of its time, many conspiracy theorists believe they must have had some extraterrestrial help. Their designs, pointing to the sky or strange sphinxes, have this element of otherworldliness to them, inspiring countless science-fiction tales. José Manuel (Nacho Fernández) is particularly in love with anything and everything remotely occult, his own bar decked out in countless Egyptian symbols.

He attends a weekly Ufology group with a variety of assorted characters, lead by the charismatic sage Julio, who seems to know the secrets of the universe. Meanwhile, his sister has lost her daughter, one of twins, who has been missing for nearly a month. The film takes a measured approach to these dual, intersecting narratives, layering the story and constantly withholding information until the last possible moment, all the while reflecting on the endless pull of conspiracy theories.

Once on the fringes of society, the rise of phenomena such as QAnon — the symbols of which I have scarily witnessed in my own neighborhood — and anti-vaccine nonsense shows how easily people can fall for unfiltered bullshit. CDs, videos and guest lectures in the film drone on about ways of stopping mortality, connecting with the universe and the alien’s grand plan for us, showing there is a lucrative business out there for those willing to peddle random, non-scientifically backed information. For the simple José — played with quiet conviction by Fernández — these various ideas are incredibly convincing, leading him on a path towards possible spiritual fulfilment.

But this is Spain after all, a deeply Catholic country with its own special feast days and rituals and ways that people convince themselves that they will be saved. The Sacred Spirit doesn’t draw any overarching conclusions however, allowing the viewer to analyse the implications of following any kind of ‘spiritual’ leader.

Shot on a mixture of 16mm and 35mm film, utilising a boxy frame and a pastel aesthetic, the world of The Sacred Spirit has a brittle feel that is often ironically detached from its characters. Complemented by spacey new-age music and the occasional trance track, this is the type of film that refuses to quickly spoil its own punchlines. The deadpan approach has a way of holding all moral considerations at bay, building up to a conclusion that makes you rethink everything that has been seen before while also giving justification to the film’s hitherto languid approach.

While this pacing leaves a lot to be desired, certain images, like Julio taking his niece on a fairground ride with the camera remaining in a fixed position, or an inflatable sphinx bouncy castle slowly filling up with air, linger long in the memory, showing off a fine eye for images from Chema García Ibarra with his debut feature. But just like delving into the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and looking for a unified message (and I’m speaking from experience having investigated all the theories behind JFK’s death), these numerous images can’t quite lift the film beyond mere fascination and into the realm of the profound.

The Sacred Spirit plays in Concorso internazionale at Locarno Film Festival, running from August 4th to 15th.

By Redmond Bacon - 11-08-2021

Redmond’s tastes are pretty diverse – from the neglected cop classic Tango and Cash (Andrei Konchalovsky,1989) the lesbian drama Show Me Love (Lukas Moodysson, 1998) to Scorsese’s best film:...

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