Directed by: Alejandro Springall
Starring: Dolores Heredia, Demi?n Bichir, Alberto Estrella, Ana Bertha Esp?n, Fernando Torre Laphame
How can anyone not like a movie in which the heroine sees visions of St. Jude shimmering in the grime on her oven window ("Thank God, I ran out of Easy-Off," she tells her priest)? Well, maybe there are those who can, but I'm not among them. First-time feature director Alejandro Springall and first-time screenwriter Maria Amparo Escandon (adapting her own novel) have concocted a charming, thoroughly beguiling comedy fantasy with Santitos (1999), a movie in which the supernatural and the most mundane coexist in quirky harmony.
Mexican actress Dolores Heredia stars as Esperanza, a bereaved mother, whose 12-year-old daughter has just died from mysterious complications following a tonsillectomy. At least, that's what she's been told. St. Jude tells her otherwise, so she seeks the counsel of her soap-opera addicted ("When you're hooked on a soap, you're hooked") priest (Fernando Torre Laphame). He thinks she's unhinged, but listens anyway -- not in the least because her story gets more like a soap as it goes on. With further saintly visits and some loopy deductive reasoning, she concludes that her daughter was kidnapped by the doctor and sold as an underage sex-slave. (The priest knows about these things from the tabloids.) The only reasonable course, she decides, is to go find her -- becoming a prostitute herself in the bargain.
With surprising good humor -- and just the right mix of reverence and irreverence about the intervention of saints -- the film charts a bizarre trip through brothels and other domains of kink, with characters including (but not limited to) an aging drag queen madame and her prissy boy toy; a millionaire lawyer; an artistically-bent voyeur; and a real-life angel in the guise of a flashy luchador called the Angel of Justice (Alberto Estrella, Man on Fire). Beautiful to look at (Springall's sense of color and composition is stunning) and stylish to a fault, the film may drag a little in the later reels, but it's so seductive in its charm that it hardly matters.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke