Review: Chronicles of a Wandering Saint | SXSW 2023

Score: A-

Director: Tomás Gómez Bustillo

Cast: Mónica Villa, Horacio Marassi, Pablo Moseinco, Nahiel Correa Dornell

Running Time: 84 Minutes

Rated: NR

Chronicles of a Wandering Saint marks the fantastic debut of Argentinian director Tomás Gómez Bustillo. Casting a satirical eye on organized religion, he's delivered the best film of SXSW so far.

Mónica Villa (Wild Tales) stars as Rita, a working-class woman in a small town. She's got a devoted husband (Horacio Marassi), but craves more attention from the world. While cleaning the local church, she stumbles upon a statue of a saint hidden in a closet. Doing some cursory research, she discovers this statue has been missing for decades, and decides to stage its return as a miracle. Without spoiling the film's big pivot and most darkly funny moment, things don't go according to plan.

What comes next is a hilarious journey of bureaucracy, religious rites and petty revenge. Villa is captivating from the first frame, pathetic but lovable. Even when she's rude to her husband, she's quick to apologize. But it's not until the last hour that she comes to understand just how deep his love is. It's incredibly moving without being saccharine or sacrificing the film's sense of humor.

A group of church busybodies serve as Rita's frenemies, providing a sort of gossipy Greek chorus. Their local priest (Pablo Moseinco) means well, but fails to provide real comfort or enlightenment. When he arrives late to a funeral in a religious-themed exterminator van, it provides one of the film's biggest laughs. And even on a small budget, the film has lots of visual style, with pops of color and some characters emitting an ethereal glow late in the film. It also uses an electronic cover of Bryan Adams's "Heaven" to masterful effect in its most audacious sequence.

There's even more to love about this gem of a film, but revealing those great moments would ruin its many surprises. Just trust that Chronicles of a Wandering Saint is a journey worth taking.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.