Chilean director Christopher Murray travels all the way to Chile’s Chiloé Island in “Sorcery,” where a teenage Huilliche girl, Rosa Raín (Valentina Véliz Caileo), witnesses the murder of her father by a German settler. At first, she seems helpless. But when she encounters much-older Mateo (Daniel Antivilo), he makes her aware of her roots and magic that comes straight from the land.
“I was always intrigued by that place. It’s an ambiguous territory,” he tells Variety.
Following its world premiere at Sundance, the film — produced by Larraín brothers’ Fabula and co-produced by Pimienta Films and the Match Factory, the latter also handling sales — will head to Goteborg’s International Competition next.
Flirting with horror, Murray was actually inspired by a true story — the persecution of the members of the Recta Provincia organization back in 1880, accused of witchcraft.
“I found it mind-blowing, this whole concept of state vs. sorcerers. They tried to treat them like criminals, which was their way of rationalizing it all, I guess. Seeing these points of view clash was so interesting, and it happens today too. Most political discussions are about figuring out how different perspectives can co-exist in one country,” he explains.
“In terms of the supernatural, or maybe natural things that happen [in the film], it all came from that case. And from the atmosphere of the island.”
Murray — also behind 2016 “The Blind Christ” and documentary “God,” which he co-directed — spent a long time there, he says, eager to explore details of the “overwhelming landscape.”
“I wanted to make it sensorial. To really capture these textures and the skin of the island,” he says.
He was also busy “collecting stories,” ultimately co-writing with Pablo Paredes.
“For me, it’s just important to get a feel of the place. I need to ‘feel’ the film. Maybe it has to do with my documentary background — I am always looking for truth,” he says.
“Everything, all these tales and myths, came from my research. On that island, stories are everywhere: it’s normal that people talk about their neighbor who ‘used to transform into a dog, but not anymore.’ I wanted to make them a part of [Rosa’s] journey.”
He sees his headstrong protagonist, constantly moving through different worlds, as someone who is in the process of change, he notes, eventually deciding to embrace her identity and even reject Christian faith.
“When you wanted to join that [Recta Provincia] organization, you had to erase your past, in a way. Also, I liked this idea of anti-baptism; I found it so beautiful. She is able to wash away the traces of colonialism, of that painful history, of any imposed beliefs.”
She is also able to find a community and exact revenge, mostly thanks to her unexpected protector Mateo.
“After experiencing all the horrifying things she has experienced and feeling like she doesn’t belong anywhere, she finally arrives at the place of care. There is something tough about the way they relate to each other, that’s true, but there is tenderness in that kind of roughness,” he says about the film’s unlikely pairing.
“This story is about power, about the annihilation of cultures that has been happening in Chile. But there are so many universal topics here, also when it comes to the treatment of native communities. I just hope people will connect with that.”
Still, the relationships he shows go beyond the human world, with Rosa slowly noticing all the hidden connections between plant and animal kingdoms as well.
“Mystery is the essence of making films. At least for me,” says Murray.
“I decided to approach this ‘sorcery’ also as a way of resistance, as something that can empower and transform — also politically. I care about the political aspect of my films, but to me, it’s not just about data or facts. My approach is more lyrical, metaphysical. Even spiritual. There is something political about emotions as well.”