Driven by the void left by the lack of organised religion, a Spanish town (or maybe the world) has accepted a host of occult beliefs and conspiracy theories as gospel. None more so than José Manuel, who has become the head of a group of UFO cultists after the death of their leader. The Sacred Spirit is a story of religious exploitation and how those who are blinded by faith can be driven to do abhorrent things.
Full of interesting and intense directorial choices, The Sacred Spirit is rendered almost entirely from lingering static shots that skirt the line between humour and discomfort. It would be easy for these extended moments to add up to an experience that feels dithery and drab but director Chema García Ibarra, and crucially, editor Ana Pfaff, have found the sweet spot where absurdity, anxiety and satisfaction coexist in harmony. The near mumblecore, naturalistic performances from non-professional actors help to anchor the humanity of the town’s inhabitants; they muddle through, burdened by myriad sadnesses that bubble just below the surface and offer a glimpse at the deep sense of loss felt by nearly everyone who appears on screen.
Maintaining a distance between the viewer and the subjects, Ibarra fosters a disconnect between us and them. Whether through placing lone characters way back in the frame or even obscuring them with physical objects, there is little opportunity for the viewer to find any common ground. We often see what the characters see and see what they do, sometimes in great detail, but we are never given enough contact to make a real connection.
This is, of course, the point. Ibarra does not want you to relate to characters until it is too late. The film holds no judgement on the beliefs of José or his community of lost and desperate misfits, and instead places all of the power in the hands of the viewer. Ibarra then tips his hand, forcing us to look inwards. It is a tricky cinematic bait and switch that few would be able to pull off, but The Sacred Spirit manages with aplomb.
Chema García Ibarra
Chema García Ibarra
15 April 2022