Review: ‘A Matter of Faith’

Three sorry misfits scramble to fulfill a local gangster's commission for a saintly statue in "A Matter of Faith," an amusing and ultimately touching road movie from Bolivia. Upbeat pic about a metaphorically uphill journey from 13,000 feet down to the tropical jungle should pave a smooth ride through Spanish-lingo territories and will have no trouble parking at fests.

Three sorry misfits scramble to fulfill a local gangster’s commission for a saintly statue in “A Matter of Faith,” an amusing and ultimately touching road movie from Bolivia. Upbeat pic about a metaphorically uphill journey from 13,000 feet down to the tropical jungle should pave a smooth ride through Spanish-lingo territories and will have no trouble parking at fests.

Unusual setup is put into place with economy and verve as easygoing sculptor Domingo (Jorge Ortiz Sanchez, looking like a cross between Nicolas Cage and Zero Mostel) gets roped into an offer he can’t refuse. Domingo is a bit of a nebbish and even more of a drinker, but he’s gifted at carving wooden statues of the saints, which he happily does for a pittance.

To give thanks for a good year running criminal rackets, an imposing crime boss orders a life-size statue of the Virgin to be completed and delivered to the remote town of San Mateo before the strict deadline of a fast-approaching religious celebration.

The fee is 1,000 times greater than Domingo’s usual haul, but he doesn’t have a truck.

Enter down-at-the-heels compulsive gambler and self-styled entrepreneur Joaquin (Elias Serrano), who passes off borrowed wheels as his own. Domingo’s lone friend, mild-mannered Pepelucho (Raul Beltran), tags along as they hit the road with the statue upright in the open pickup.

Obstacles galore confront the trio as the Virgin is variously coveted, shot at, dropped and fractured.

Pic milks genuine suspense as to whether they’ll deliver the goods on time before Joaquin has a chance to wager the statue in a card game. Domingo puts his faith in a higher power, Joaquin puts his faith in the luck of the draw, and fate intercedes for a satisfying dramatic conclusion.

Thesps are engaging throughout. Lensing incorporates lots of dusty pastels, vegetation and local color of markets and cock fights. The varied score is easy on the ear.

First feature from scripter-director Marcos Loayza is a certified hit in Bolivia, where it’s reportedly out-drawing the likes of “Apollo 13.”

A Matter of Faith

(CUESTION DE FE)

Production

(BOLIVIAN) An Iconoscopio production, in association with Luis Prudencio Tardio, with co-operation of Conacine (Bolivia). (International sales: Iconoscopio, La Paz.) Produced by Jean-Claude Eiffel. Executive producer, Luis Prudencio Tardio. Directed, written by Marcos Loayza. Camera (color), Cesar Perez; editor, Nelson Rodriguez; music, Oscar Garcia; art direction, Jose Bozo; costume design, Jorge Laruta; sound, Sergio Claros Brasil. Reviewed at Amiens Film Festival (competing), France, Nov. 9, 1995. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Domingo ... Jorge Ortiz Sanchez Joaquin ... Elias Serrano Pepelucho ... Raul Beltran
With: Gina Portugal, Fernando Illanes, Toto Aparicio.
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