Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Close Encounters of the Animated Kind: The Apostle

Ever since the time of Chaucer, the unscrupulous have often exploited pilgrims on the road.  One mysterious Spanish hamlet continues the practice, extending it to tourists and escaped prison inmates. However, karma might be slowly coming around in Fernando Cortizo’s The Apostle (trailer here), which screens this Friday during the Denver Film Society’s Close Encounters of the Animated Kind series.

Through dumb luck, his greatest attribute, Ramon has broken out of prison, but his cellmate Xavier is left behind.  At least he has time to tell his partner where he stashed the plunder from their last job.  Pretending to be a pilgrim, Ramon arrives in the sleepy town, where Xavier’s description of the suspiciously hospitable locals turns out to be spot-on.  Everybody seems to want to give him something to drink, but Ramon just wants to visit the house where his partner hid the loot.

Eventually, things get decidedly supernatural and potentially fatal for the escaped thief.  It seems the procession of spirits haunting the village has its hooks into Ramon.  He has three days to find a replacement or its curtains for him.  The villagers led, by the creepy Don Cesáreo, will not be any help.  They lure travelers like Ramon to their sinister little village for the express purpose of sacrificing them to the procession.

Apostle is so obviously the product of a country like Spain, where everyone hates the Church, yet they all remain Catholic.  Don Cesáreo and the pompous Archbishop of Santiago, traveling the pilgrim road for wholly self-serving reasons, are profoundly anti-clerical characters.  Nonetheless, they inhabit a world where evil very definitely exists, going back millennia.

While most of Apostle is rendered in stop-motion animation, the most arresting sequence brings ancient illuminated manuscript pages to life, vividly explaining the way-back-when to viewers.  It is dramatically underscored by the original chorale themes composed by the prolific Philip Glass, who really brought his A game, or at least his B+ game to the proceedings.  In fact, the darkly classical hues of his music add considerable texture to the film.

Frankly, Apostle’s craven priests are rather old hat by now and our primary POV figure is almost completely charmless.  Still, it all looks and sounds quite stylish.  Cult movie fans will also be amused to hear Spanish genre stars like Paul Naschy (the werewolf Waldemar Daninsky) and Luis Tosar (the concierge in Sleep Tight) amongst the voice cast.  Recommended solely for its distinctive animation and the enjoyably macabre vibe (but not so much for its narrative), The Apostle screens this Friday (8/9) in Denver, as part of the Film Society’s Close Encounters of the Animated Kind, which also includes the thoroughly engaging From Up on Poppy Hill, Moon Man, and Approved for Adoption.