The Black Virgin

The Black Virgin


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

It is a brave director who opts to attempt magic realism for their first feature, since the real and the imagined, the whimsy and the concrete need to be held in fine balance if the audience is to be gathered up in the conceit. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Amelie and Like Water For Chocolate, Ignacio Castillo Cottin’s film has handsome production values – sadly, the storyline is a lot less attractive.

The action is set in El Pueblo de Negros (literally, the town of black people), where everyone seems to live in relative harmony, under the wing of the town’s (white) founder Senora Isabel (veteran actress Carmen Maura, cruelly underused here) and the local (white) padre Cura Isadoro (Francisco Díaz). When local lass Manita (Carolina Torres) gets fed up of three months fasting in the bedroom and a lack of response to her prayers, she heads to see the local (black) witch, who advises her that if she switches the church’s Madonna for a black virgin, all her wishes will come true.

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For a film that has a strong theme of romance and seems intent on exploring grey areas between superstition and religion, reality and fantasy, there are an awful lot of things being presented in black and white. Right down to two of the children who dip in and out of one of the film’s myriad subplots – Negrita (little black one) and Blanquita (the little white one). All of which never really goes anywhere and so feels more like a half-formed storyteller's whim than anything more solid.

Add an over-complex list of characters and plot and pretty soon this mojo simply isn’t working. Firstly, there’s the film’s narrator, young Franklin (Julio Rodríguez), who despite being only around seven or eight engages in the sort of insight usually reserved for Hollywood tweenie moppets. In fact, his narrative adds little to the action except to make already convoluted goings on even more tangled. In addition to Manita’s desire to get hubbie Ombligo (Ruben Leon) back up to scratch in the sack, others are hoping romance will flourish while still others, it seems, are wishing for less savoury outcomes.

There is an additional subplot concerning thieves threatening to ransack the village, which fails to drum up a sense of menace, not to mention the fact that the sun stops setting, for no particular reason. Pacing is also a problem, with the initial set up taking too long, which in turn leads to the director overcompensating by making huge jumps in the timeline as the film reaches its rather unsatisfactory climax.

That's not to say the film completely misses the mark, there is some well-worked humour, particularly between Manita and Ombligo, and Negrita gets some great one-liners. Disappointingly, there is just enough comedy to make you wish for what might have been if Castillo Cottin had ditched some of the plot in favour of beefing up the script.

While the constant presence of 'magical' dustmotes in the air is all very pretty, the story is, ultimately, as insubstantial as they are. Yet another example of a writer/director who would be better served by concentrating on what happens behind the camera while letting someone more adept handle the script.

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2009
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The Black Virgin packshot
A town's church virgin begins granting favours... but people should be careful what they wish for.

Director: Ignacio Castillo Cottin

Writer: Ignacio Castillo Cottin

Starring: Carmen Maura, Julio Rodríguez, Matheus Nachtergaele, Angélica Aragón, Carolina Torres, Carolina Torres, Francisco Díaz, Caridad Canelón, Martín Peyrú, César Suárez

Year: 2008

Runtime: 86 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Venezuela


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