The Passion of Michelangelo | La pasión de Michelangelo

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FEATURE, CHILE, 2013, DIR. ESTEBAN LARRAÍN, 97 MIN, SPANISH WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES

Chile, 1983. The street protests pose a dangerous threat to Pinochet’s military dictatorship. The regime responds with a secret operation to divert public attention. A 14-year-old street kid called Miguel Angel, who swears he can talk to the Virgin Mary, becomes their decoy and is turned into a pop prophet. His tormented face is reproduced in the media, and in no time at all hundreds of thousands pilgrims are making their way to Peñablanca, the village where Miguel Angel lives, to pray and perhaps witness the prophecies and miracles that are “occurring”.
Initially fragile and shy, Miguel Angel becomes a clever and capricious teenager who uses his “divine gift” to manipulate his environment. If the church investigates and discovers the hoax, his fall from grace will be monumental – unless the government intercedes.

Screens with: Venus in Mars, Honduras, Dir. Coco Flower
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Esteban LarrainEsteban Larraín
is Chilean and lives in Santiago, Chile. He was born in December of 1973. In 1995 he graduated from the University of Chile with a degree in Social Communication. His thesis was “The Contemporariness in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Cinema.” In a parellel way to his last university years, he develops studies about Photography of Cinema, Script and Documentaries. Since the beginning, Esteban Larraín has been the producer and director of their own films.
In 1997 he won the National Fund for the Development of the Arts award, FONDART, for his documentary entitled, PATIO 29, STORIES OF SILENCE, which narrates the history of the largest discovery of missing persons in Chile in 1992. In the beginning of 1998, the Ford Foundation awarded him a scholarship to broadcast and distribute PATIO. Thanks to this scholarship, PATIO 29 was selected in diverse international film festivals and distinguished with the Third Place award at the XX Havana Film Festival and the Award for the Best Film in the XIV Fribourg Film Festival, Switzerland.
In mid 1998, he went to Cuba to study at the Film School at San Antonio de Los Baños. At the end of 1998, his project, RALCO, about a conflict between an hydroelectric center and an indigenous community, resulted in another award from FONDART. Another Ford Foundation helped to finance this project, making it possible to continue following the conflict for a year and a half. RALCO, documentary filmed entirely in 16mm, participated in more than twenty international film festivals in countries such as France (Cinéma du Réel), Italy (Milan and Trieste), Spain (Gijón), Canada (Montreal and Vancouver), the United States (Margaret Mead), Cuba, Uruguay. RALCO was also awarded with the Special Prize in Valparaíso’s Documentary Film Festival, First Mention in the Trieste Film Festival, and awarded with the Best Photography Award at the Documentary Film Festival in Santiago.
During 1999 and 2001, he carried out specialization studies in Cinematographic Studies in Rome thanks to a scholarship from the Italian government. During this period, he directed four short films. Similarly, he works as producer for the Cultural Office at the Embassy of Chile in Rome.
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Review: “The Passion of Michelangelo”
An intense religious drama set during the Pinochet regime and based on a true story, “The Passion of Michelangelo” reps an ambitious sophomore fiction feature for Chilean writer-director Esteban Larrain (“Alicia in the Land”). The helmer’s background in documentary helps lend urgency, immediacy and credibility to the unbelievable tale of a teenage orphan whose supposed contact with the Virgin Mary attracted huge crowds just when the dictatorship needed some popular distraction. Despite an unfocused p.o.v., the pic is a nonetheless a gripping, almost mythical rise-and-fall yarn that could convert small arthouse congregations, some beyond South America.
In 1983 Chile, Miguel Angel (Sebastian Ayala) is a 14-year-old lost soul who, as he himself explains it, was plucked from obscurity by the Virgin, who decided she could talk to the country’s suffering people through him. Somewhat oddly, the Virgin also asks the numerous faithful to pray for Chile’s “best president,” Pinochet.
Miguel’s frequent communions with the Mater Dei, on a hill near the backwater of Penablanca, quickly become public events, attracting tens of thousands, and featuring not only Mary’s words, but also visions in the sky and stigmata-like bleeding.
The audience’s way into this incredible story is through Father Ruiz Tagle (Patricio Contreras), a practical-minded man of the cloth who has been sent by Church officials to verify the miraculous goings-on. His first stop is the village priest, Father Alcazar (Luis Alarcon), who’s become Miguel Angel’s de facto chaperone. Tagle also visits the outdoor gatherings — which cast the teenager in increasingly fantastical scenarios — as well as the locals, including a communist (Luis Dubo) who sells Virgin Mary statues, a pious woman (Catalina Saavedra, “The Maid”) and her atheist photojournalist husband (Roberto Farias).
The film slowly narrows its initial bird’s-eye view of events as it focuses on Miguel Angel, who’s dubbed Michelangelo after he sees a photo of the Pieta. The camera accompanies the youth as he is driven to meetings in Santiago by government officials, and gathers 12 pint-sized disciples, including his chosen one, Lazaro.
There’s a natural homoeroticism to the rapport between Michelangelo and Lazaro, who are of the same age; somewhat disturbingly, a sexual element also arises in the adored youth’s evolving relationship with the kind-hearted Alcazar, who is not immune to temptation. Larrain’s sense of restraint is key in making it clear that Michelangelo is starting to experiment with his uncontested authority and, more specifically, the power of his allure, even if the young teen is perhaps a long way away from understanding anything about his sexuality.
Not all the events are directly observed by Father Tagle, and though what’s onscreen is often compelling, the lack of a singular, omniscient p.o.v. diffuses the pic’s focus, shortchanging the troubling ties between the junta and the conveniently distracting, religion-induced mass-hysteria (this is no “No,” with its razor-sharp focus on the ties between Chilean politics and advertising).
Newcomer Ayala convincingly captures the slim youth’s agony as well as his ecstasy, and turns Michelangelo into an innocent if approval-hungry creature who becomes a victim of the hype he helped create. Opposite him, Contreras and Alarcon are both so persuasive, it’s a shame the pic doesn’t have more time to dedicate to their characters’ moral and practical conundrums.
Loosely shot on 16mm in earthy tones, “The Passion of Michelangelo” has a documentary directness that helps ground the period story in reality. Costumes by Carolina Espina further help underline the protag’s inner transformations. Title is no doubt also a nod to Michelangelo Antonioni, the subject of Larraín’s 1997 thesis at the U. of Chile.
From Variety
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