A teenager takes on a dangerous mission in Mariana Bastos’ bitingly clever drama.
Synopsis: Raquel is a teenager who moves with her father to a small town, in search of a new life. During her first days there she believes she is given an important and controversial mission related to the Bible.
When Raquel (Valentina Herszage) moves to a small town, her immediate acceptance into a local religious circle appears to be a blessing, showing her warmth and companionship under unfamiliar circumstances. However, as the group’s central belief of submission and subservience of women comes to the fore, she begins to question the use of the Bible in rationalising, condoning and even mandating control over women. Those questions soon lead to a movement that threatens her place within her new community as she decides to reclaim the words for herself.
Religious horror is a mainstay of the genre, with the core idea of good vs evil obviously underpinning many films, but more interesting are the works that present women undertaking personal missions linked to a higher religious power. Films like Saint Maud and A Banquet both feature women burdened and spurred on by cosmic enlightenment, but do so in a way that calls into question their mental health and places a tremendous personal cost on them. Within Raquel 1,1, there is rather more sobriety, aided by the film’s more muted qualities. That lower key doesn’t, however, prevent the film from engaging in otherworldly moments, but its attempts to echo religious imagery are more organic than any special-effects-driven take.
Raquel is not on a direct mission to save one person, nor is she rendered under a kind of fevered possession seen in those films mentioned above, but something far more grounded. Her need to exorcise the damaging passages about women from the Bible is rooted in her past, but also in the behaviour she sees in the young women and men around her – her drive is in preventing those words being used to justify that ill treatment. This is truly a story about reclaiming and critique as Raquel’s own faith is not influenced by her non-religious father – she seeks to claim it for herself rather than abolish entirely.
Bastos’ film is economic with its imagery, instead placing an emphasis on voiceover or text in exploring Raquel’s past. Her reasons for challenging the words within the Bible are revealed slowly, each time increasing in their harrowing details. At each stage we see Raquel experience those memories and thanks to a committed and engaging performance from Valentina Herszage, this becomes more powerful than providing the visuals ever could be. Her experience hangs over the film like a spectre with long, slow shots of the cave in which she has her revelation treated as a traditional horror space before switching to the aural reveals. The film becomes overwhelming in its sobriety, taking time to pause at other moral panics (most notably the Satanic Panic) in which people become targeted for being at odds with the current system.
While the film toys with moments of magical realism, it uses them sparingly and powerfully, often without thorough explanation or exploration. That is likely to frustrate some who might long for clearer answers about her revelation, although the film’s technical choices make it clear that is not the film it wants to be. The bulk of the film’s power lies in the words spoken, whether recited from the Bible or recounted from the past – this is a film with something to say about the treatment of women within modern society based on ancient texts and affords them the volume to say it.
Overall, Raquel 1,1 is a bold film, refusing to take an easy (and lazy) critique of religion and instead molding a powerful critique of how texts can allow all genders to justify poor treatment of others and how those who seek to upend those systems can be vilified. Bastos’ restraint in writing and direction allow the performances and messaging to shine.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Raquel 1:1 screened as part of the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival 2023. Find out more about the festival at their webpage.