The Sacred Spirit

Cinemaattic are doing their Adrift season, so I went along to see The Sacred Spirit. A deeply strange film, it follows an ordinary family with extraordinary beliefs in UFOs, clairvoyance, and ancient Egyptian mythology.

Watching the film, it reminded me of an article I read on serial killers and abnormal psychology. Why can’t we spot them? the article asked. Because we’re all fucking weird, was the answer. The author wrote the piece from a hotel hosting a furry convention. Even an interest viewed by the majority as strange, has a whole culture in which it is affirmed as normal, where you can disappear into a crowd, be insignificant or even boring.

The spirituality of this film’s family is the same. It’s a minority form of religiosity, and a mix peculiar to this family, but it is by no means any stranger than dominant forms, or society in general. The main character, Jose, is not alone in his belief in extra-terrestrial contact, either in the film or in real life. His parents’ obsession with Egyptology is not unique to them either, as there is no end of kitsch tat mass-manufactured for a market craving it. Jose’s niece Veronica is able to watch any number of YouTube videos on the ancestral astral forms of humans, each promising enlightenment for a price, and each warning to download the video, lest it be removed by those hoping to hide the truth. From both within and without, there is a constant reinforcement of the reality of the magical as part of everyday life.

And that’s what this film’s about, the mystical and the mundane. Everyday life is full of such extraordinary things. For Jose and his family, aliens and psychic powers are a day-to-day reality as much as tables and chairs. Even outwith his family, in the community there is a woman seeking an exorcism of what she believes is her abusive husband’s ghost, a schoolchild talks about the smell of flowers being affirmations from God, and a neighbour constantly harps on about nefarious and clandestine gangs of Eastern Europeans who are spiriting children away to harvest their organs and sell them into sex slavery. And all of this is set in the run up to Easter weekend, when the dominant and normalised religious expression prepares to celebrate the dead returning to life, the manifestation of a God on Earth, on a date based on the position of celestial bodies, by eating bread and drinking wine which a spell has transformed into flesh and blood.

There is a bizarreness with which we watch the family in The Sacred Spirit, but as the film goes on, you find yourself questioning if this is all going to follow the reality of the characters involved. As a viewer, you can see how the conviction your beliefs are reality can make you vulnerable, but within the world of the characters, there are constant reinforcements and confirmations. The feeling of being sucked in transfers from the characters to the viewer at times.

The Sacred Spirit, in many places is very funny, but it almost feels too strange to laugh. Because the whole thing is played absolutely straight, you almost can’t let out your giggles at Jose and his UFO group standing in wee light-up pyramids, waiting to be beamed up. Throughout the film, there is a look at the weirdness of the forms of human spirituality, and while there is humour there, this is no contemptuous mocking. There is a sincere respect for ordinary people wanting to make sense of life and death.

A very strange film, with an edge of darkness bordering the playfully weird and wonderful.

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