Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu May 06, 2021 3:50 pm 
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Revisiting a popular Dominican legend

This new film from the Dominican Republic starts out on the wrong foot for me. It's always risky to begin a movie at top speed because the audience isn't ready; and where can you go from there? A hurricane is something you need to build up to, but Nino Martinez Sosa, the maker of LIborio,, opens with his protagonist in shirtsleeves battling the hurricane that is going to temper him, somehow, into a man with healing and forgiving powers. But this remarkable event is allowed only four minutes to unroll. It's violent and noisy, but it's only a big man in a damp shirt roiling around. It seems both too much and not enough.

Sosa sets out to tell the 'true' story of Olivorio Mateo, a peasant who according to legend returned from a battle with a hurricane transformed also into a leader of local people. He acquires a following and moves around the countryside directing spiritual gatherings, doing good, and so forth. (He doesn't always heal. When a woman comes asking her lost son to be brought back to life, he disappoints her.) The actors and rural settings are attractive, though sometimes the filmmaking seems as naive as the characters. The whole thing seems rather like a ballet, and like a ballet, it shows generic figures and does not delve beyond the surface.

The seven sections of the story - Liborio, Returns from heaven, To move the people, And raise the dead, Of this land of ours, Tearful, Blessed, present events from changing points of view toward the emerging but always somewhat mysterious "Papá Liborio." There’s his grown son, who is happy to find his father alive and becomes his chief follower. There is Matilde (Karina Valdes), the woman in who attaches herself to him as a follower and second in command and becomes the mother of his child. There is an outsider and recent convert who remains suspicious to others. And so on. This multifaceted approach doesn't hide the fact that the film unquestioningly believes in Father Liborio - until the US invasion comes.

At that point it soon turns out to be a pet project of the local Marine commanding officer, Captain Williams (Jeffrey Holsman), to destroy Liborio, whose independent authority is seen as an obstacle to American colonial interests.

On the one hand this sleepy production finally gets a slight jolt past midway with the arrival of the odious Capt. Williams. On the other hand this development only further highlights the simplistic nature and naiveté of a film that never seems confident of its storytelling or distinctive in its cinematic style. While Oscar Duran’s cinematography is handsome, it needs a further edge to convey the sort of numinous magic we believe to be experienced by the Father's followers who come to accept him as a reincarnation of Jesus.

Liborio is an admirable stab at recreating local legend and reviving national culture. But it seems too much of a stretch to compare this film as some have done to Lucrecia Martel's complex, historically precise Zama. It lacks that kind of stylistic flair.

Liborio, 95 mins., 99 mins., debuted Feb. 2021 at Rotterdam, also showing at Göteborg, Tertio Millennio (Rome), FICUNAM (Mexico), and San José (Costa Rica). Screened at home for this review as part of the MoMA/Film at Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films (Apr. 28-May 8, 2021).

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