×

Toronto Film Review: ‘The Apostate’

Uruguayan director Federico Veiroj details one man's attempts to leave the Catholic church with irony and a touch of Bunuel.

With:
Alvaro Ogalla, Marta Larralde, Barbara Lennie, Vicky Pena, Kaiet Rodriguez, Juan Calot, Andres Gertrudix, Jaime Chavarri, Mercedes Hoyos. (Spanish dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4156152/

Among other things, “The Apostate” concerns a young Spaniard’s attempts to break formally with the Catholic church, but the dramatic implications of the title are swiftly belied by its co-writer/director, Federico Veiroj, who strikes a lighter, more deftly ironic tone. Repping a slight letdown from his previous effort, the delightfully cinephilic “A Useful Life,” Veiroj’s follow-up nonetheless benefits from the same instinct to locate moments of absurdist comedy within the throes of existential crisis. It also moves the Uruguayan filmmaker from the confines of the Montevideo cinematheque in “A Useful Life,” which he rendered in black-and-white, to the full color and open air of Madrid, where the traditions of the church co-exist uncomfortably with the city’s cosmopolitan vibe. Veiroj’s glancingly subtle touch (emphasis on “glancingly”) may cost “The Apostate” a wider berth, but it stands to solidify his growing reputation on the festival circuit and beyond.

Playing a version of himself, first-time actor Alvaro Ogalla (who also co-wrote the script with Veiroj, Gonzalo Delgado and Nicolas Saad) looks so comfortable on screen that it’s sometimes easy to forget that his character is at a crossroads. A philosophy student on the brink of graduation, Gonzalo Tamayo (Ogalla) starts feeling the urge to rebel a little, perhaps as a way of establishing his own identity as an adult. First and foremost, Gonzalo sets about resolving what should really be considered a bureaucratic mistake: He’s not an active member of the church and certainly could not have chosen to be one as a baby, so he wants the obstinate bishop Jorge (Juan Calot) to please hand over his baptismal record. Much, much easier said than done.

But Gonzalo’s apostasies are not limited to renouncing the church alone. Though his symbolic unshackling horrifies his mother (Vicky Pena), who cannot comprehend why he’d go through the trouble and embarrass her in the process, Gonzalo feels sufficiently liberated to try new things. This includes casting an eye toward his lovely cousin Pilar (Marta Larralde), with whom he’s flirted since childhood, and paying some romantic attention to his neighbor Maite (Barbara Lennie), whose inquisitive son (Kaiet Rodriguez) he’s been tutoring on the side. While his symbolic resistance leads him to new possibilities, Gonzalo isn’t keen on committing that strongly to any of them.

Ditto “The Apostate.” Veiroj isn’t an emphatic storyteller by nature. His hero in “A Useful Life” has devoted seemingly every waking moment to running a movie theater, only to watch it crumble in the face of bad financials, but the film doesn’t marinate in end-of-cinema despair. Here, too, Veiroj contents himself mostly with sketching out the contours of Gonzalo’s situation, rather than exploiting it for the melodrama that burbles under the surface. Among the many literary and cinematic references at play in “The Apostate,” Veiroj nods to Luis Bunuel in a dream sequence where Gonzalo is “exposed” among the members of a nudist colony, but he’s not a provocateur by nature. It’s safe to say that church officials will be easier on him than they were on Bunuel.

Gonzalo’s dalliances add up to precious little, but Veiroj’s comic tone finds purchase in his absurd run-ins with the bishop and a church so unwilling to lose a member from the rolls that they’ll stick him in a bureaucratic roundabout until he gives up. (An old ritual that requires an apostate to leave the church backwards while looking at the alter has a particularly delicious payoff.) Veiroj also touches meaningfully on the crisis within the church, which has to maintain its values while holding onto a generation that’s drifting away. (“The pope doesn’t represent everything,” the bishop reasons.) That conflict between tradition and modernity is at the core of “The Apostate”; it’s just not in Veiroj’s nature to dramatize it.

With its caressing natural light and attention to old-world architectural detail, Arauco Hernandez’s photography stands out among the tech contributions. That, along with Veiroj’s typically concise 80-minute runtime, makes the pic go down easy.

Popular on Variety

Toronto Film Review: 'The Apostate'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 15, 2015. (Also in San Sebastian Film Festival — competing.) Running time: 80 MIN.

Production: (Spain-France-Uruguay) A Ferdyduke Films, Cinekdoque, Local Films, La vie est belle films associes production. (International sales: FiGa Films, Los Angeles.) Produced by Guadalupe Balaguer Trelles, Fernando Franco, Federico Veiroj, Maria Martin Stanley. Executive producers, Trelles, Franco, Veiroj. (Original title: “El apostata”)

Crew: Directed by Federico Veiroj. Screenplay, Gonzalo Delgado, Nicolas Saad, Alvaro Ogalla, Veiroj. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Arauco Hernandez; editor, Fernando Franco; production designer, Gonzalo Delgado; sound, Alvaro Silva, Daniel Yafalian; line producer, Guadalupe Balaguer Trelles.

With: Alvaro Ogalla, Marta Larralde, Barbara Lennie, Vicky Pena, Kaiet Rodriguez, Juan Calot, Andres Gertrudix, Jaime Chavarri, Mercedes Hoyos. (Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Beyonce Knowles'The Lion King' film premiere,

    ABC Announces Behind-the-Scenes Special for Beyoncé's 'Lion King' LP

    ABC has announced a new behind-the-scenes look into the making of Beyoncé’s “The Lion King: The Gift” LP, which is set to air September 16 on ABC at 10 p.m. EST. Titled “Beyoncé Presents: Making the Gift,” the new hour-long special will allow viewers to “experience the process” behind the “Lion King” companion album, according [...]

  • Jason Lei Howden, Samara Weaving and

    Daniel Radcliffe On Acting With Weapons Nailed To Your Hands

    How did “Guns Akimbo” director and writer Jason Lei Howden convince Daniel Radcliffe to play a character with guns nailed to his hands? Easy, he sent him the script. Radcliffe joined Howden and “Ready or Not’s” breakout star Samara Weaving in the Variety’s Toronto Film Festival studio, presented by AT&T to talk the limits of [...]

  • Box Office: It Chapter Two Maintains

    Box Office: 'It: Chapter Two' Continues International Reign With $47 Million

    Pennywise’s reign of terror hasn’t wavered: Warner Bros.’ “It Chapter Two” maintained first place on box office charts, led by another strong showing overseas. The sequel, based on Stephen King’s horror novel, generated another $47 million at the international box office for a foreign tally of $169 million. After two weeks of release, “It Chapter [...]

  • First still from the set of

    Taika Waititi’s 'Jojo Rabbit' Wins Top Prize at Toronto Film Festival Awards

    Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” has won the coveted People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The honor positions the film for a potential Oscar run and bolsters its awards chances. That’s good news for Fox Searchlight, which must have been disappointed by the lackluster critical reception for the movie, a dark comedy [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Racks Up Solid $33 Million Debut, 'Goldfinch' Bombs

    “Hustlers” rolled in the Benjamins this weekend, collecting $33.2 million when it debuted in 3,250 North American theaters. Boosted by rave reviews and stellar word of mouth, “Hustlers” beat expectations and now ranks as the best start for an STX film, along with the biggest live-action opening weekend for stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. [...]

  • German Cinema Is Diverse, But Is

    German Cinema Is Varied, But Is It Too Risk Averse?

    One of the strengths of German cinema is its diversity, says Simone Baumann, managing director of the national film promotion agency German Films. As well as the three films at Toronto directed by female German helmers, there was also German filmmaker Thomas Heise’s documentary film essay “Heimat Is a Space in Time.” Then there were [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content