Simplicity and sincerity are the keynotes of “Guadalupe,” a modestly engaging drama inspired by the much-heralded appearance of the Virgin Mary 475 years ago at the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City. Aimed primarily at Latin American Catholics and others devoted to (or simply intrigued by) the iconic figure known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, this Mexican-produced pic should satisfy its target aud during limited theatrical runs and long home-vid shelf life.
Working from an adeptly structured script by vet TV scribe Tessie Gutierrez de Picazo, helmer Santiago Parra nimbly time-trips back and forth between the 16th and 21st centuries, interweaving a reverent account of the miraculous visitation with a contemporary story that pivots on the phenom’s enduring effects.
The 1531 sequences, which show how the Virgin Mary (Sandra Estil) used a poor Indian as her earthly messenger, are oddly appealing in their unabashed corniness, filmed and acted in the blunt-force style of an educational short. Mary tells elderly Juan Diego (affectingly played by Jose Carlos Ruiz) to pass the word on to the local bishop: She wants a church built near Tepeyac.
Not surprisingly, the bishop is slow to believe Juan Diego’s report. But the old fellow gains considerable credence when he reveals his coarse cloak has been imprinted with the famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
That cloak — which still hangs in the Basilica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe, built on the spot where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared — looms large in the pic’s modern-day storyline.
Despite their skepticism, sibling archeologists Jose Maria (Aleix Albareda) and Mercedes (Ivana Mino) are drawn to the Guadalupe myth. They journey from their native Spain to Mexico City to study the cloak itself, which has been proclaimed genuine by several reputable real-life scientists and researchers, and to interview a variety of guadalupanos (admirers and worshippers devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe).
“Guadalupe” has a strong flavor of soap opera — or, perhaps more accurately, telenovela — when it details how Jose Maria and Mercedes have been immutably shaped by their not entirely happy childhoods. Mercedes now avoids long-term commitments, even while wooed by a handsome colleague, and Jose Maria chronically neglects his wife and children while focused on work. Both need a shot at redemption. Which, of course, they get.
Pic is most interesting for mainstream auds when it focuses on the ecumenical appeal of Our Lady of Guadalupe, introducing a gregarious Jewish businessman (Pedro Armendariz) and a Muslim TV scriptwriter (Jaskarin), among others, to represent the multitudes of non-Catholic guadalupanos in and beyond Mexico.
It’s also worth noting that, by sheer coincidence, “Guadalupe” appears just in time to serve as an ersatz companion piece to “Apocalypto.” The appearance of the Virgin Mary, one character notes, helped end the era of human sacrifice among the Aztecs by hastening their conversion to Catholicism.
Tech values are uneven — DV lensing is notably drab during dimly lit interior scenes — but the performances overall are credible. Angelica Aragon is a standout as a maid who makes a joyful noise as she enthusiastically explains why Our Lady of Guadalupe continues to be so revered by so many.