When I talk to people after leaving the cinema, having seen something together, I am often confident we watched entirely different films. When I’m on my own, the same feeling is substituted by reading the distributors’ descriptions, often even highlighted by some terrible, misleading translation of the title. Anyway, whether the distributor agrees or not, in The Holy Girl, teenage Amalia starts stalking the middle aged doctor Jano after he gropes her in a crowd not to save him from an extramarital affair with her mother, but simply to turn the act of violence into one of love; to accept the hurt as a sign and demonstration of God’s infinite grace instead of having to carry it as a trauma inflicted by one of the thousands of balding creeps who are unable to stop themselves from being fucking disgusting.
I’m almost ready to sleep when I remember when I have seen this connection of God and sex before. Just like with Goethe’s Werther, it must have been years ago at school when I jotted down these notes from the teacher’s lesson: nun, intimate poetry—loved God as if God was a man. I can’t remember the name, and when I take to Google search, it unsurprisingly returns nothing useful other than a poem by Jan Neruda, a Czech poet of the second half of the 19th century, about a nun so crazy with loneliness that she kisses the cold marble of a statue of the Virgin Mary and famously cries: “You were allowed to love God himself / allow me to at least love a man!” Which, I admit, is a pretty close hit.
When The Holy Girl came out, I was 13, certainly wouldn’t be allowed to watch it and even if I did, I most likely would understand none of it, just like I did not comprehend the idea of a cloistress writing borderline erotic poetry to the Lord. (It took me two days to remember this, but it was Saint Teresa of Ávila, the 16th century religious figure, who apparently really did call God her “sweet love” in her writings and got inspiration from hallucinations of insufferable pain she considered ecstasy).
Watching the film now in my late 20s, I am of course impressed by it and somehow more tuned to the theme of searching for a spiritual calling while gaining (and at times having to fight for) command over my own body. That’s why I get so mad about the distributor’s text, which seems to pit Amalia against her mother. When, in reality, she’s taking on someone—something—else: damnation itself.
Discussing Lucrecia Martel, what comes up the most beside her personal fierceness and general badassery is her busy-composition visual style, her directing actors to natural perfection and her exquisite sound design. More could and perhaps should be said than what I have disclosed. About the role social status plays in her films. And morals, or lack thereof. About how most of her feature-length work is made up of what is actually a semi-autobiographical trilogy, something I rudely ignored when I broke up the order the movies were shot in, here and in my viewing. About feminism. About her shorts. But even if I set out to encompass that instead of a few short musings, would that change anything—certainly nothing for the world of cinema or criticism, but for me?
When I came to Locarno one year ago, I didn’t know, but sensed, that it was going to be the last few days of peace and carelessness for a long time. Being on the far end of the amateur spectrum in the Academy, maybe I was less burdened by any expectations and strive for full professionalism, which for me is liberatingly unachievable.
What I’m therefore allowed to replay, remember and reminiscence about in connection to Locarno, has nothing to do with cinema. It is trying to climb on the concrete structure just off the edge of the lake, failing and scraping the skin on my ribs ever so slightly, creating an unflattering scab I couldn’t stop myself from picking at weeks later, when work and personal troubles came to overshadow the memory. Getting off the bus from Base Camp too soon and almost having to walk the whole way back to the hostel. Taking my shoes off when it rained because it made no sense to wear them in the storm. And the thing just around the corner from the actual thing: Tegna.