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The Sacred Family (La Sagrada Familia) - arthouse and international DVD / foreign language DVD / drama DVD review
Unrated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 3 stars
Actors: Patricia López, Néstor Cantillana, Sergio Hernández, Macarena Teke, Mauricio Diocares
Director: Sebastián Campos   Distributor: First Run Features
DVD release: 19 August 2008   Runtime: 99 minutes
(1 disc of 8)
Format: Color, DVD-Video, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
DVD Features: Audio Tracks (Spanish - Dolby Digital 1.0), Subtitles (English), Discussion Guide (director's notes, director biography, profile of Chile)

The Sacred Family is a jarring, sometimes hard-to-take movie with a great payoff. Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Campos has made a study of a family's descent into hell, a path that proves to be rutted and pitted with moral degradation and graphic sexual humiliation.

A family - Marco (Sergio Hernández), his wife, Soledad (Coca Guazzini), and their son Marco (Néstor Cantillana) - celebrates Easter weekend by gathering in their home on the cliffs somewhere along the Chilean coast. As Catholics, the group is a continuum, from the mother's smart, somewhat secularized but fiercely pure faith to the son's violent doubt.

Marco hijo, newly sophisticated by his studies in architecture, brings home his new girlfriend, Sofia, played by Patricia López. Lopez's performance is edgy and sharp, sometimes to the point of hamminess, but it helps drive an ensemble performance caught cinema verité-style with handheld cameras in natural light. (Indeed, the verité style of the film, no doubt with a little help from some truth-bending PR types, has some viewer-commentators exclaiming "no script!" and "it's all real!" but don't believe the hype: the multiple takes from various camera angles prove that this is a carefully set-up and scripted picture, albeit with room for improvisation.)

As isolated as the family is, the girl next door, Rita (Macarena Teke), lives in a house on the next ridge over and suffers from "selective dumbness." Marco hijo obviously loves her, so naturally Sofia hates her. And nearby-somewhere never quite determinable-is a gay couple (pot-smoking civil law students both) who get together and nastily break apart over the course of the weekend. Until the very end, we're left wondering from where the sure-to-come redemption (or, more Catholically, "resurrection") will come.

Mother Soledad might be a source of redemption, but that would be too simple; Marco hijo, our Christ for the duration, must redeem himself. After a few lines ("Sometimes we're so asleep we don't know what we're doing"), she leaves the house to help a friend in need. That leaves the two Marcos with Sofia for the weekend.

From the trio we learn, among other things, that a use for the otherwise useless armadillo is for its carapace, used to make the body of the charango, the mandolin-sized guitar heard in mariachi bands.

Sofia dismisses Catholicism ("the sacred family is a carnival") but adds that she thinks of Christ that "all his chakras were wide open." Follow this with a couple hits of ecstasy, some heavy sweater-petting, and a consultation of an oracle (The Book of Changes gives Sofia hexagram five, telling her that the trio is "Waiting," something we already knew), topped off with Marco padre showing Sofia his bedroom and asking her about the view; "it's privileged," she tells him. "Of course," he replies. Somewhere in the mélange, cut to the post-coital gay couple so we can hear them talking about Article 74 of the civil code.

We're supposed to find deep meaning in this montage of images and allegories but, except for the poetic ending, it all comes across as ham-fisted, if at times provocatively so. As Sofia says, "Being a hedonist is very provocative. It annoys some people."

The Sacred Family does have its moments when everything gels and the attempts at layering crystallize, such as when Lopez, as Sofia, performs for the two Marcos a monologue in which she speaks of being the suicide, the woman who tears the doors off to let in the wind and the cry of the world. She sets her jail on fire, she declaims, and throwing her clothes in the pyre, is dressed then only in her own blood. It's a great moment when Lopez's hamminess furthers our appreciation of the character and reveals, too, the filmmaker's intentions: this could have been a funny film.

It's all a train wreck, though, from early on when the filmmaker tries to outdo Todd Solondz in the ejaculation department to late in the film when Marco drugs padre and girlfriend after seeing them sexing it up and arranges their sleeping bodies in a pieta, her face at padre's crotch. Death and resurrection is done to death.

An exchange between Sofia and Marco padre sums the situation up: Sofia tells him he is wise. Marco padre replies he is only in as much as all old men are wise. He's 55; he's coyly demurring, soaking up the obvious attention. The Sacred Family coyly demurs.
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reviewed by Brian Charles Clark
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