Taking a look behind the veil…….
(Marrying God, Duke Johnson, 2008, USA, 19 mins.)
I often feel that there is not enough precedence given to short films. I think that the main reason for this is probably due to the fact that it often seems for every good short film there are roughly 25 mediocre studies into all things somniferous, and a further 25 which are just plain awful.
However, a little like panning for gold, if you do put the effort in, and sift through the sludge and dirt, you very occasionally find a small nugget of pure gold.
Marrying God is a mere 19 minutes long. Yet within that short time it manages to cover the themes of childhood, adolescence, love, sexual desire, Catholicism and the varying hypocrisies of religion, sisterly love, poverty, immigration, death and fidelity.
In contrast, having recently watched some of this years ‘blockbusters’, I’m fairly sure a good deal of them have somehow managed to have no theme whatsoever.
Short films are special because they are not restricted to the conventional ‘purpose’ of a feature film, i.e. telling some sort of story. Short films can be short-stories, but more often they are ‘snapshots’, a question without an answer, a brief glimpse through the looking glass. They almost always require a more intelligent viewing – one that will see this medium not as a ‘mini feature-film’ but as a separate genre itself, with its own methods and intricacies, and equally with its own messages.
Marrying God is set on the most simple of canvases; it is the day of which the protagonist; young girl Lola (Ashlyn Sanchez), is preparing for her Confirmation.
The rest of her Mexican-American family, her sister Ivy (Alexa Vega) and mother Marciela (Diana Franco) who works as a maid, are painted against the most quintessential of American backdrops: a middle-of-nowhere motel. Lola plays the innocent, but curious young girl, the very picture of purity, in her new white shoes, her mind untouched by the complicated discolorations of older life, of reality. Older sister Ivy is less naïve, more cynical, but most emphatically, more aware of the life they are leading as three females, daughters of Mary, expected to follow with the aspiration and commitment of the most humble of Catholics.
It is this age-difference between the two sisters that plays the key role in this film – as young Lola is preparing herself to strive to be a good Catholic woman; the film opens with her sister surfacing from beneath the leaf-strewn and deserted motel swimming-pool, having taken her sister’s picture of the Virgin Mary. As Lola practices her ‘Ave Maria’ and puts on her white dress she is bombarded with images of adulthood, of adult sexuality, of impurity which she does not understand – her older sister towelling off her breasts as she emerges from the hotel swimming pool, a used condom in one of the hotel rooms, and a lipstick which she attempts to apply before having wiped off by Ivy (“You’re too little.”)
It is as though she is simultaneously trying to make sense of two worlds which don’t cohere – each new experience in her day contrasting with the images of sanctity and immaculacy which she is just hours later to become initiated in to.
There is a lingering sadness around older character Ivy, as though she remembers what is was like to be Lola’s age, to be ‘too little’ and as if some part of her wishes she still had that innocence, now she is a woman and understands such things as her sexuality which she must hide from her Mother. As Lola is dressed and prepared, Ivy takes the veil and places it on her head, admiring herself in the mirror,
“Mum bought it for me first, Lola.”
“Today’s my special day, not yours.”
Lola’s reply is delivered to her sister defiantly, unequivocally unblemished and unoffending.
“It’s my veil now.”
“Fine, it’s yours” snaps Ivy, throwing the veil down onto the dressing table upon the wrapping of a chocolate bar, staining the beautiful cleanliness of the veil, smudging and dirtying the pristine white.
Lola wanders slowly up to the table and picks up the veil, peeling the wrapper away and simply gazing upon the ruined headdress before hiding it from her mother.
Just before they leave for the service, Lola goes looking for Ivy. As she skips along past the motel rooms she recites her prayer
“Hail Mary, full of grace.
Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Seconds later she happens upon her sister in one of the rooms, passionately embracing the Mexican-American worker ‘Jesus’ (Jesse Garcia). After she bangs on the window and Ivy hurriedly dresses herself, the man alights from the bed and turns, revealing a large tattoo of the Virgin Mary on his naked back.
It is this simple but evocative imagery which becomes the resounding strength within this film – Through its short running time the film becomes rather like the Sistine Chapel where the most holy and sacred of these icon’s history and sanctity are interspersed with the fallibility of mortal humans, walking around and trying to make sense of the scale, the grandeur, occasionally puncturing the hallowedness whilst perhaps taking a digital photo or two.
This analysis of grace and piety, through the most unornamented of symbols could not be simpler, more powerful, and more resonant in todays unprecedented challenging and ‘spotlighting’ of religion, as the young Lola stands before the Father, dirtied veil, forgetting the words of her prayer and stumbling again and again over the words ‘Hail Mary’ before taking the body of Christ and sitting amongst the rest of the young girls at the front of the Church.
I won’t reveal the ending of the film but it is quite simply one of the most intricate and beautiful I have ever seen, the closing shot showing Lola’s veil resting on the leafy pool from which her sister emerged earlier at the beginning of the film.
In all, Marrying God is quite simply a delicate, beautiful portrait of religion and female adolescence, which to buy on iTunes for a mere £1.49, is most ironically roughly half the price several thousand people will pay today for a polystyrene cup of Coca-Cola whilst waiting in line to see Shrek Forever After………………..