×

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.

Popular on Variety

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.

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

  • Mika Ronkainen and Merja Aakko

    ‘All the Sins’ Producers to Broaden Spanish-Language Ties (EXCLUSIVE)

    GÖTEBORG, Sweden: “All the Sins”’ Finnish co-writers and creators Mika Ronkainen and Merja Aakko, winners of last year’s Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize for outstanding Nordic screenplay, are developing for MRK Matila Röhr Productions an adoption drama set between Finland and Guatemala. Based on a true story, the six-part series “Act of Telling” (a [...]

  • A still from Vivos by Ai

    'Vivos': Film Review

    To the individual enduring it, sorrow seems a lonely, defenseless emotion, one from which others are too quick to look away. Shared and felt en masse, however, it can become something different: a galvanizing force, a wall, not diminished in pain but not diminished by it either. Ai Weiwei’s stirring new documentary “Vivos” runs on [...]

  • Jumbo

    'Jumbo': Film Review

    Tall, dark and handsome? The crush that Noémie Merlant’s character, Jeanne, explores in “Jumbo” is one out of three: a 25-foot-tall carnival ride who seduces the amusement park janitor as she spit-cleans his bulbs. During the night shift, Jumbo literally lights up Jeanne’s life, and while he’s not handsome in the traditional sense — especially [...]

  • Ironbark

    'Ironbark': Film Review

    Movie spies typically fall into one of two categories. There are the butterflies — flamboyant secret agents like James Bond or “Atomic Blonde” who behave as conspicuously as possible. And then there are the moth-like kind, who do their best to blend in. The character Benedict Cumberbatch plays in “Ironbark” belongs to the latter variety, [...]

  • Miss Juneteenth review

    'Miss Juneteenth': Film Review

    “Miss Juneteenth” richly captures the slow pace of ebbing small-town Texas life, even if you might wish there were a bit more narrative momentum to pick up the slack in writer-director Channing Godfrey Peoples’ first feature. She’s got a very relatable heroine in Nicole Beharie’s Turquoise, an erstwhile local beauty queen whose crown proved the [...]

  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always

    'Never Rarely Sometimes Always': Film Review

    The basic plot of “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is easy enough to describe. A 17-year-old girl named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) winds up pregnant in a small Pennsylvania town. Prevented from seeking an abortion by the state’s parental consent laws, she takes off for New York City with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), where what they’d [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content