Review: ‘Alma Mater’

A throwback to a time when Latin American cinema regularly produced intense, surrealistic studies of Catholicism , Alvaro Buela's pic is about a maladjusted woman's spiritual re-awakening. Pic is love-it-or-hate-it fare whose serious point is almost lost in a confusing welter of clashing styles. Niche auds with a taste for the kitsch might bite.

A throwback to a time when Latin American cinema regularly produced intense, surrealistic studies of Catholicism , Alvaro Buela’s “Alma Mater” is about a maladjusted woman’s spiritual re-awakening. Pic is love-it-or-hate-it fare whose serious point is almost lost in a confusing welter of clashing styles. Niche auds with a taste for the kitsch might bite, but there is little in “Mater” to suggest it will be the commercially successful offspring of the internationally acclaimed Uruguayan film “Whisky” which that nation’s cinema is looking for.

Ultra-dowdy, shy thirtysomething Pamela (Roxana Blanco) mans the check-out counter at the grocery store where she works and is sometimes approached by a strange figure in a hat (Walter Reyno), supposedly the Holy Spirit, who shows her she’s one of the chosen by giving her his excess change.

Evenings find Pamela attending over-the-top religious meetings at the Church of the Wounded Christ, where she enters into trances under the spell of the impassioned rants of a Brazilian priest (Werner Schunemann) .

Worldly displays of immorality make Pamela physically ill, and, while recovering from a fainting fit after a colleague’s party, she is befriended by a fellow lonely soul, golden-hearted transvestite Katia (Nicolas Becerra). Katia takes her home and teaches her how to open herself up to the world.

When Pamela decides that she’s carrying the next Jesus inside her, she and Katia set out to find a father for the child — at which point the pic’s earnest symbolism turns into something resembling comedy.

A deja vu satire of the hypocrisies of organized religion, pic makes its points clumsily . The occasional moment of humor is not enough to compensate for the lack of dramatic focus. Characterization is slim, and, although Blanco is sometimes fascinating in an appalling way , there is little in Pamela to engage the emotions. Becerra is more successful as the slow-talking, lens-friendly Katia.

Alma Mater

Uruguay-Canada

Production

An Austero (Uruguay)/Xerxes Indie Films (Canada) production with the participation of MVD Socio Audiovisual, Alfabeta Films, Tvi. (International sales: One-Eyed Films, London.) Produced by Jose Pedro Charlo. Directed, written by Alvaro Buela.

Crew

Camera (color), Daniel Rodriguez Maseida; editor, Simone Maccari; music, Sylvia Meyer; art director, Paula Villalba. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Latin Horizons), Sept. 16, 2005. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Roxana Blanco, Nicolas Becerra, Walter Reyno, Werner Schunemann, Beatriz Massons.
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