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Short Takes: The Apostate

(Federico Veiroj, Spain/France/Uruguay, Opening September 9)

Federico Veiroj’s narratively modest but intellectually rich new comedy chronicles one Spaniard’s desperate attempt to deconvert from Catholicism. Convinced that religion is an instrument of exploitation, the delightfully odd Gonzalo Tomayo (Álvaro Ogalla) wants to destroy his baptismal record, but is confronted with the Church’s tyrannical bureaucracy. A tricenarian still in college, he is regarded by everyone as a failure, but success is not part of Gonzalo’s philosophy—all he strives for is a sense of agency, the possibility of choosing his own path.

Working within a tradition of heightened, impressionistic satire, Veiroj demonstrates a rare aptitude for depicting his distraught protagonist’s emotional world. Enhanced by a dynamic and evocative soundtrack that alternates between Prokofiev and music from propagandist newsreels, The Apostate is an intoxicating tango between reality and reverie: the daily experience of a man whose incomprehension and refusal of conventions lead him into a sweet but progressively maddening abyss.

Despite being advised by his philosophy professor to “accept the mediocrity of his natural condition” and pressured by authorities to give up, Gonzalo is adamant about bringing his fantasy of existential rebirth to fruition. For many, his fight against a larger-than-life, indomitable institution is complete insanity, and an indication that he was never able to forge himself a place in society. But Gonzalo—whose desire to renounce his religion was inspired by the real-life experience of the actor who plays him—is living proof that it takes guts to be an idealist rather than to merely conform.