How do we balance modern faith with the often unsavoury legacies of religion, and how are those legacies used to excuse immoral behaviour in the present? Filmmaker Mariana Bastos gestures at these questions in her second feature Raquel 1:1, a compelling magical realist drama.
Raquel (Valentina Herszage) and her father Hermes (Emílio de Mello) live in a small, religiously conservative town in Brazilian, following a tragedy involving Raquel’s mother that we learn about piecemeal throughout the course of the film. Although Hermes is not religious, he recognises the power that church leader Elisa (Lianna Matheus) wields among the community, keeping his head down in an effort to maintain the peace. This is made increasingly difficult when Raquel joins the youth church group and begins to question misogynistic passages in the Bible.
The group splits after Raquel suggests the Bible needs revising, bringing some of her more open-minded friends but alienating Elisa’s daughter, Ana Helena (Priscila Bittencourt). Ana Helena, along with her mother, is outwardly the most conservative of the group, but as the daughter of the leader of their church, she has the most to lose, too. Ana Helena’s rage at this risk to her power is compounded by the strange stigmata-like markings that Raquel finds on her body after a trip with her friends to a remote lagoon, in which Raquel discovers a cave imbued with mystical power. Elsewhere, Raquel’s friendship with Laura (Eduarda Samara) emotionally centres the film with a platonic love story that is juxtaposed against the petty cruelty and self-loathing that fundamentally underpins the shape of the world around Raquel and Laura.
Raquel 1:1’s moments of magical realism are where the film is strongest, allowing the fairly straightforward clash of religious values to give way to something altogether more elemental. Crucially, we never see inside the cave and never know what exactly happens to Raquel inside it. Her confusion and dread over her inexplicable wounds suggest influence both divine and diabolical, upsetting the neat hegemony of good and evil enforced by Elisa.
Meanwhile, the internalised misogyny that drives Elisa and Ana Helena is echoed in Raquel’s memory of her mother, who we learn was in an abusive relationship before a violent, traumatic death that Raquel witnessed. Indeed, the force that Raquel discovers in that cave is both healing and destructive; empowering her to confront her past trauma and to dismantle present systems of oppression in a wonderfully explosive, Carrie-esque finale.
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