3 May 2002 | rsoonsa
How an American film can challenge the European métier.
In many hamlets within southern Colorado, New Mexico and northern Mexico, a cult of Roman Catholic flagellants, Penitente, is active, its rites culminating each year just before Easter as one of the members from each village is chosen by lot to be crucified in the manner of Christ, and this exceptional film interlaces actions occurring from its scenario with this pious event. Raul Julia portrays Ramon Guerola, a devout penitent whose young bride Celia (Rona Freed) remains a virgin because of fear, but who is strongly attracted to Ramon's lifelong friend Juan Mateo (Armand Assante), newly released from prison and now visiting his compadre, and a romantic conflict which arises over Celia will be decided at last upon the cross. This is actor and acting teacher Cliff Osmond's only film as director, and it is simply splendid in every respect, with his screenplay spare and dramatically nuanced, and actors as strongly idiosyncratic as Julia and Assante being skillfully guided; a salutary score is contributed by Alex North and the work is deftly edited by Peter Taylor.