Title: Vera, A Transcendental Journey Of The Soul
Length: 86 mins
Starring: Urara Kusanagi, Marco Antonio Arzate
Director: Francisco Athie
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genre(s): Drama, Adventure, Fantasy, Foreign
Studio: Facets Video
Country of Origin: Mexico
Features: Trailer, Photo Gallery, Chapter Selection
Produced in: 2003
This is an independent Mexican film produced in the US, in 2003. For some obscure reason it was released on DVD in 2006. Although it is a color film I watched it in black and white, since its DVD format probably wasn’t compatible with my player. So some of the information, yet none of the meaning, was lost somewhere in the digital labyrinths of my conveniently modern, neat little lifestyle. One of the two main characters in the film is played by the Japanese butoh dancer Urara Kusanagi, who is based in Germany, and is really perfect for the part. Marco Antonio Arzate on the other hand is rather the film veteran, and has participated in no less than 25 films. Francisco Athie is an independent film creator (and I use the word creator instead of director because he writes and produces his films as well) from Mexico, who is currently working on his next film, “El baile de San Juan”.
“A Transcendental Journey Of The Soul” is a very suitable title for this film, its language being completely symbolic from beginning to end. In fact the title is self-explanatory, and you can watch the whole film bearing only that in mind, in order for you to understand it. It engages in a slow, cautious, tormenting and powerful narrative style, that leaves its imprint immediately on the viewer and demands attention. Mixing reality and fiction, fantasy and realism, utilizing old and well-known symbols to reach its ambiguous conclusion, it is fascinating and extremely thought-provocative. For those of you who are used to modern, quick-paced, cutting-edge technology cinematography this will take a little longer to digest. But it is certainly worth the effort.
The idea in a nutshell: the main character, Juan, suspends himself in an improvised device and uses it to descend down a cave and begin his toil to dig out the precious metal. The anguish and hazard of his situation are apparent immediately, symbolizing the uncertain situation of the intelligence, once it is found alone in the darkness it had managed to create itself. The effort is agonizing, the result improbable, and nothing goes as planned. Everything collapses, one difficulty arises after another, the instruments of success become contributors to doom, and Juan is entrapped in the cave, with rocks falling over his head. From that point onward one might say that reality is left behind to make room for metaphysics. I beg to differ from that opinion, as it was my impression from the beginning that the film had no intention of being realistic, except perhaps in its imagery and that only at points, and is on the contrary entirely symbolic. But that is just my own personal opinion. If I had to use one single phrase to describe how it evolves from then on, it would be “All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream”, by E. A. Poe. The character enters one box after another, each box containing another, and that in its turn another, and another and another. There is no end to the assembly of realities, coming together at points, drifting apart at others, sharing only one common factor: the creative intellect that has spawned them.
Juan after his fall is transported instantaneously in a completely different environment, where his steps are unsafe, the ground perilous, and the winds carry him away in all directions. His vision is blurred by objects floating in the air, and he is humbled, falling, trying to stand up on his feet and then falling again, in a relentless struggle with the elements of this new environment. In fact this new acquired humility is the main clue for the beginning of his journey; it is that which he must attain in order for him to move forwards. Throughout his ordeal he has managed to hold on to a piece of gold, which he uses to perform his ritual, to evoke his deities and in the end to be conveyed to another location, exploring deeper into the realms of his own psyche. There he bears witness to the birth of his personal deity, Vera (although her name is never mentioned in the film). They carry on together and he watches her evolve and grow into a full female figure as an almost erotic tension is developed between them. The worshipped and the worshipper, abandoning all to follow his deity, in his desperate search for the truth. He is cleansed in the same waters as she is, as he helps her evolve with his understanding. She takes him upwards through the tree of life, and when he finally manages to climb after her he is greeted by death. He tastes of death’s essence, and in perhaps the most evocative scene of the film, death (in the form of a skeleton) rises and Vera seduces him to an otherworldly dance. When the ritualistic dance has reached its peak, Vera takes death by the hand and flings him on the rocks, eliminating him and taking his place. This is no common pathway. She pulls Juan’s hand to bring him into the abyss with her. He resists with all his might, but in the end yields, and they cross the river of Styx together. As soon as they have reached their final destination, Vera picks up a fruit from each one of the two trees that are present, the sweet fruit, and the bitter one. Good and Evil, or Knowledge and Ignorance, would be a simplistic view of looking at this, but each viewer can bestow it with their own interpretation.
A fact which applies for the film as a whole, as it doesn’t have a conventional plot or narration, and everything in it is merely a representation for something much more complicated. I enjoyed it very much, given that it provided me with an opportunity to reflect on my own course. The attempt for self-improvement and intellectual elevation always involves exertion, suffering, and sacrifice. Death is the only thing that can lead to birth, and revelation. The truth can be bitter, and of a treacherous nature. Our personal deities are enigmatic, incomprehensible, distant, cold. They bring to us experiences we never sought in the first place, the means to an end that even ourselves don’t realize. Even at the time when we are imploring for these same experiences, we do not fully understand their nature. Only through unconditional love can we achieve some kind of unison with them, as they are, after all, our own elusive creations. And each death signifies a new beginning.