Monday, December 14, 2009

SCN: In STIGMATA, Adán Aliaga explores religion, society, sexuality and humanity

TrustMovies is really sorry he didn't get a review up of STIGMATA (Estigmas) sooner, before it had finished its SCN showings. On the other hand, he's happy to have seen it on the big screen rather than via DVD screener, on which a good portion of its beautiful, widescreen, black-and-white cinematography (by Pere Pueyo) would have been lost. This tale of a big bruiser named Bruno (far, far from that other Bruno who recently graced movie screens) who one morning awakes to find himself "stigmatized" by those same religious symbols that seem to invade the world's movies from time to time (didn't Patricia Arquette have them last?) offers a good deal more than either its title or subject might indicate.

Said to be based upon a graphic novel by Lorenzo Mattotti and Claudio Piersanti (who co-wrote one of the better Italian films of recent years, La giusta distanza), the movie has been directed as a work of art by Adán Aliaga (shown above), a Spanish filmmaker from Alicante whose command of technique in the service of telling a very strange story is remarkable.

Aliaga uses short, highly impressionistic scenes to convey Bruno's tale, as this all-but-silent hulk, once the stigmata appears and the medical profession offers no help, leaves his job as barroom custodian and begins to travel cross country to and through a nunnery/convent hospital and finally ending up in the employ of a carnival troupe. Word of the stigmata gets around, and the man is hounded, used and ill-used by almost everyone he encounters, yet he manages to stay focused on whatever is his job at hand.

Beatings, healings, love and sex all weave through Bruno's life, and at times he threatens to become the New Testament Job. But Aliaga keep his tale on track: No matter how strange it grows, it is never less than believable -- working on both real and symbolic levels -- which says a lot for this filmmaker's skill. Lead actor Manuel Martinez (shown in the poster, top; two shots above; and again above, right), a shotput champion whose first film role this is, proves a great choice. As an actor he is capable of seeming to hold reams of feeling buried deep within. That big, bearish body holds a heart that's huge and a mind that makes up in kindness what it may lack in intelligence. Martinez is complemented well by Marieta Orozco (above, left), as the woman who proves to be his lady love.

Toward the finale there is a scene of such power and horrible beauty that it will probably remain in your mind for a long while. This is followed by Ariaga's one big misstep. You'll know it as soon as you see it -- so unnecessary that it sticks out like a sore thumb (or maybe a sore penis). But then the director collects himself and goes back to his former mode, closing his movie on a note of grace and redemption.

Stigmata had its only two screenings during the first few days of SCN. Being an art film, and a good one, a theatrical release seem unlikely. But stick the director's and the film's names in your memory bank and pounce, should any opportunity to view it -- DVD, cable, streaming -- ever appear.

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