Unpretentious and fresh in its approach to tackle patriarchy within a local Spanish church, HOPELESSLY DEVOUT offers a feast of eccentric characters who will definitely make you smirk.
There is always some kind of genuine excitement when you take a seat in the cinema and you are about to watch a young director’s first feature. Even more so when the director is a woman. You cannot help but feel the thrill of being witness to an era when women are finally more and more encouraged to take up the camera and shoot. So the film starts running and you are intrigued by every detail, you look at the framings, and you do your best to spot even the slightest trace of some green artistry. When closing credits appear on the screen and the film was overall very good, that is just the cherry on the cake. Screened for the first time outside its country of origin at the Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival, HOPELESSLY DEVOUT (Mi querida cofradía) is Marta Díaz de Lope Díaz’s first directorial effort after her final, award-winning project for ESCAC (Cinema and Audiovisual School of Catalonia), the short Y Otro Año, Perdices.
Carmen (Gloria Muñoz) has spent the last ten years of her life assisting and somewhat guiding the local religious guild in Malaga when the election for the new President of the guild is approaching. Never ever a woman has been elected as Hermano Mayor (literally, older brother) of the religious brotherhood devoted to the Holy Virgin Mary but Carmen is just a step away to make history happen. She stands there, in front of the statue of the Virgin, proud, almost majestic, ready to be bestowed the longed-for holy rod when “Ignacio”, the priest suddenly announces “is going to be our new President”.
To everyone’s dismay, her arrogant rival (Juan Gea) snatches the title. Carmen tries to keep it together only to let her rage running amok when Ignacio’s excessive boasting goes a bit too far. The morning after, Ignacio pays Carmen a visit. At first, he seems sympathetic, he says he understands Carmen’s disappointment but then remarks that as long as there will be a man standing in the brotherhood there won’t be a single chance for Carmen to be President, for she is a woman and she can just pour him some brandy. Outraged, Carmen wants her revenge. In the spur of the moment, she puts some laxatives pills into his drink and so the parade of hysterical gags can finally begin.
Tearing down, piece by piece, the typical Mediterranean Catholic image of the unfalteringly devoted middle-aged woman who goes to church every Sunday and lives by God’s grace, HOPELESSLY DEVOUT shows the bare-naked, most intimate soul of the assertive, and competitive Carmen. Díaz de Lope Díaz’s eye investigates with acute and unfiltered intensity those power games that work beneath the surface to control even the most secluded religious community. At the core of the film is the unshakable custom by which every community and society at large must be dominated by men. No matter how fitting another candidate is, as long as she is a woman she is destined to be sabotaged. However, the director’s approach to undermining and subverting the patriarchy is a fresh, subtle yet extremely clever one for she portrays a character willing to fight not so much for empowering women more widely as for her own satisfaction.
Technically, Díaz de Lope Díaz seems to favour symmetric and aerial shots giving her film a solid visual structure throughout and in particular in some key scenes. When preparations for the procession parading the statue of the Holy Mary reach a dead end as Ignacio is lying unconscious on Carmen’s bedroom floor and people cannot take any decision without the President’s approval, Carmen climbs on the altar and places herself in front of the statue as to superimpose her own image to the one of Mary and assert her leadership. Díaz de Lope Díaz’s framing manages to convey Carmen’s newfound power by showing the woman from the lower point of view of the people who look at her in the church.
Delivering some earthy, funny moments, HOPELESSLY DEVOUT follows a pretty simple plot yet it never feels cheap. With a running time of just 90 minutes, the film goes by pleasantly fast leaving the audience with a vague sense of satisfaction as if justice is finally done and we can now all go in peace.