The Festival Internacional de Mediometrajes (Short Films) is an annual event in Valencia. This year the venue was the historical Centre Cultural de la Nau on the campus of the Universidad de Valencia and at the Filomteca. The former is an impressive building with a large courtyard where they seated hundreds and it where we were this evening. Spoiler alert- I go though the plot of Notre Dame de la Zad.
The film was introduced in person by the French director. He told is that Our Lady of the Zad is a comedy about a fictitious group’s effort to block highway construction through a forested area containing an endangered species, a huge escargot. Well, you know how the French love snails.
A priest visits the site. He is met by a young woman who spins a tale, obviously made up as she goes. It is about the appearance of the Virgin Mary, who tells her that the highway must not be built as this is now a holy place.
The priest is not convinced by the story but is a supporter of the protest so tells her he will report to the bishop. He convinces the bishop that it’s worth a visit to the site to determine the veracity of the claim. The bishop brings his laptop so he can fill in the app, which asks questions about the predominant colors, rosey or pale pink. She says black, so the priest asks if the Mary was an immigrant (no), then concludes is was a black Madonna. There are statues of such, by the way. During the exchange the priest interrupts by banging the table as the young woman tries to bring up the highway protest in connection with the apparition, the banging causing the lights to fail. Protecting endangered species does not appear as an option in the app, noted in the tongue in cheek dialogue.
Once the app gives him the positive result, the bishop leaves to spread the word of the appearance of Mary. Later, as the police are about to arrest the protesters, pilgrims looking for Mary’s assistance appear with walkers and canes. The police chase the protesters, who circle around, bringing the police back to the supplicants. The police think they are all in it together at first, wading into the pilgrims with clumsily wielded batons, before they distinguish the groups from one another, not at all difficult unless you are really into batoning people. The cops finally arrest just the protesters. Instructions then come from the Prefect, the priest’s sister, say to arrest the priest as well. However, the officer says, the orders are to arrest the Protestants, misreading protesters for Protestants, and the priest is clearly a Catholic, so must not be arrested. They sort that confusion out finally. The priest is thrown in with the woman, the two alone at first. They kiss, but not before she asks, “What about God.” The priest replies, “He already knows.”
The protesters are then packed in with the couple. The van shortly has a flat yet again – a running gag (pun intended) – and it is suddenly dark (part of another running gag), but there is no jack and they are still in the middle of the forest. The rest of the police force is nowhere to be seen. As they ponder the problem, a woman in robes appears out of the fog. They stare, look at each other, and when they look back she is holding a jack. One of the officers approaches with pointed pistol – imagine approaching someone you think is Mary with a gun for protecton – retrieving the jack. In the meantime the protesters have escaped unnoticed – how could that happen? – running off into the woods. The two officers drive on without a glance back.
No one died laughing but most enjoyed the cleverness of the farce. If you get the chance, check it out!