Andorra: No pronunciarás el nombre de Dios en vano

(1999, dir: Josep Guirao; language: Catalan; title in English: Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of God in Vain)

A tiny country wedged between France and Spain, it is perhaps understandable that Andorra doesn’t have a long list of locally produced films to its name. This film was chosen because it was literally the only one I could source that fit the local production criteria.
Writer and director Josep Guirao is apparently an experienced director, but I have to say that this film felt amateurish and poorly conceived.

No pronunciarás… is a gangster thriller short set in the year 2046 (although this date doesn’t seem to actually affect the action in any way). The film kicks off with a powerful and well-connected gangster boss interrogating a collection of religious leaders about how to recognise a true messiah. The viewer later discovers that the gang boss is holding captive a rival crook, Emmanuel, who claims indeed to be the first coming. Apparently the film is based on the science fiction novel The Branch by Mike Resnick, which I have not read but which sounds a lot more promising than this film turned out to be.

For the first five minutes or so, I was sort of enjoying the film. There was something comically jarring about the hammily-acted gangsters and disreputable looking ‘religious leaders’ (who looked a lot more like a collection of the film-maker’s friends than actual religious representatives) arguing heatedly about the finer points of Judaism vis-à-vis Christianity and their relationship to the concept of the messiah. Is this film going to be a send-up of the gangster genre, I wondered, or of theology, or both? By the time the theological debate hit the 20 minute mark, with no variation in pace, subject matter, or character, I was starting to get very bored and was no longer sure what the ambitions or point of the film was.The gruesome climax, when it finally came, also felt drawn out and tedious.

Overall the film felt uneven, overblown, and – at a running time of 32 minutes – at least 20 minutes too long. More than anything else, it felt like a group of friends had decided it would be cool to make a film about religion and gangsters and stuff. Not that I have anything against amateur film; indeed this film did an admirable job of eking the most out of a presumably tiny budget through strategic lighting and basic props. My criticism of the film is more that if it did have a point, it didn’t do a very good job of communicating it.

As far as enlightening me about the country of origin, this film was probably not such a good choice. It was interesting listening to the Catalan language, but other than that I didn’t get the impression that the film would have changed much if it had been produced in another country. I wonder how the film was received in Andorra, a largely Roman Catholic country, and if seen from that context the film might have had another meaning? Any Andorrans out there want to weigh in? Also, I understand that the central Jewish-Christian debate was based on the subject matter of the original story, but it did feel a bit strange to have the Muslim representative in the film so totally sidelined (did he even talk or have a line?), especially in a country like Andorra where Muslims greatly outnumber Jews (according to Wikipedia, at least). I mean, I know the film isn’t trying to be representative (or is it? who knows…), but the presence of the silent murdered Muslim just felt like tokenism. Not to mention the bloodthirsty atheist henchman…

Ultimately all I learned about Andorra from watching this film is that they have very little of a native film industry. If anybody out there knows of a better film produced predominantly in Andorra (with an Andorran director and cast), please let me know and I can revise this post.

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