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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 10.30.09] Spain movie review drama fantasy



Year: 2009
Directors: Adán Aliaga
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 8 out of 10

It’s difficult, if not nearly impossible, to walk into Adán Aliaga’s full length directorial debut without some consideration of the religious overtones that will undoubtedly appear in a film titled Estigmas (direct translation: stigmata) but Aliagan’s film isn’t concerned with the global apocalypse or the salvation of humanity but rather the exploration of one man’s life.

Bruno is a burly man with a soft demeanour. He’s kind, quiet and in trouble. An alcoholic, on the verge of being evicted and working for a man who takes advantage of his good will, he’s quickly being pushed into edges of life. He awakes one morning to find himself bleeding from wounds that have mysteriously appeared on his hands – stigmata. To Bruno, they are a curse, to his employer they are something to be feared and to many others, they are a sign of salvation. Through a series of events, Bruno finds himself wondering through the country side in search of his uncle who he hopes will provide him with either money or a job but what he finds instead is a sort of salvation. He joins a traveling fair, falls and falls in love. As his life settles into a semblance of normalcy, the stigmata disappear only to be replaced by tragedy.


There is much to love about Aliaga’s film, particularly the high contrast black and white cinematography which casts a gloom. This choice makes it clear from the onset that Bruno’s story is not going to end well. Further setting the film’s sombre mood is the accompanying score which prominently features the didgeridoo. Aside from deepening the mood, it also introduces an element of indigenous tradition to a story with themes deeply entrenched in Christian mysticism. The film missteps slightly when it uses caterpillars as a symbol for Bruno’s transformation; though the images are beautiful, they are out of step and too obvious in comparison to the subtleties and undertones of the story. The images may have worked in Lorenzo Mattotti and Claudio Piersanti’s graphic novel (from which the film was adapted) but it doesn’t work on screen.

The film depends a great deal on the acting prowess of its lead. With little dialogue, much of the story is told through facial and physical expression. Spanish shot putter turned actor Manuel Martínez (in real life often referred to as the Gentle Giant) captures much of Bruno’s confusion and fear. Though not subtle, the performance works due in part to Martínez natural gentleness which comes through in the film.

There are some problems with the script (characters come and go without explanation and their actions don’t always make sense) but Estigmas is at its best when Aliaga allows the images to tell the story and the director has the good sense to take advantage of that strength, providing extended scenes of unspoken storytelling.

Purposefully paced, Estigmas will not work for everyone but Aliaga’s film is beautiful, haunting and lyrical. A rich experience with more than simple good looks, it’s loaded with ideas about religion, relationships, expectations and redemption. Estigmas also shares much with Ryan Ward’s Son of the Sunshine (see our review). There are more than a few parallels between the two films but specifically, the exploration of personal sacrifice. Anyone for a double bill?


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