I watched this interesting movie last night using valuable sleeping hours. It happened by mistake, I was trying to show my mum this channel, Magic World Africa and it was just my luck that as I tuned in, the next scheduled movie was Almacita, Soul of Desolato. Magic World Africa is one of the many TV channels dedicated to providing African movies for our (i.e those of us on the African continent who subscribe to their service) entertainment, they are different because they show movies that are not so popular and quite old. (For example, for years I’ve longed to watch a movie by Ousmane Sembene. I put myself through a lot of work attempting to read some of his plays in French but couldn’t find any of his movies AND a few weeks ago I caught Ceddo on Magic World Africa. I almost cried.)
The TV guide gave all sorts of wrong information on Almacita SoD claiming that it was made in 2008 (actual date 1986) and not giving any information on which part of Africa the movie comes from. According to the TV guide, the movie was simply about a witch whose job is to protect the village from evil spirits. On the contrary, there were no witches in Almacita SoD but there was a priestess…and evil spirits but also good spirits!
A quick search online today yielded the following results, Almacita SoD is from Curacao(!) directed by Felix de Rooy. The language spoken in the movie is Papiamentu and it is a “folklorish fantasy”;
“Based on old legends, the film depicts a fictional agricultural community in an isolated part of Curaçao at the turn of the century. The central theme of the film is the struggle between creative and destructive forces.
In the village of Desolato, Solem, the priestess protects the villagers from Alma Sola, the symbol of evil, the patriarch of the “shons”, the white landowners. Alma Sola has the power to transform into male, female or animal and always strikes when vigilance of Desolato weakens.
Solem has sacrificed her fertility for the welfare of the community. Therefore she is not allowed to have a relationship with a man. Her longing for physical love provides Alma Sola with an opportunity to lead her stray.” (Source)
And while I hate the use of “cult” in the following summary it is also quite accurate;
“…about the virginal priestess of a West Indian animistic cult who gives birth to a child after being seduced by an evil spirit; forced from her ancestral village, she eventually sets out on a purifying quest that brings her into contact with powerful mystical forces.” (Source)
Solem wasn’t exactly forced from her ancestral village, IMHO. As for my own very detailed summary…
The community of Desolato is experiencing a long-term drought. To complicate issues further, most of the young men in the community have left for the bigger town, San Christoph leaving their wives, children and only three elderly men behind. It is Solem, a mute young woman, who holds the priestess title and with it, the responsibility of taking care of the entire village.
Each day, Solem goes out into the wilderness accompanied by a young boy, her companion, Lucio in search of food for the community. Lucio and Solem mostly gather cactus fruit used to make cactus soup which the people of Desolato eat together. The drought means the people of Desolato have not eaten “proper” food in a while.
One day while in the wilderness Solem and Lucio come across a wounded man. This man, unknown to them is Alma Sola (an “evil” spirit I’d liken to the orisha Eshu) disguised as a man. Solem and Lucio take him to a cave and help him recover but Lucio doesn’t really want to, he does what Solem says. While Solem is tending to Alma Sola, Lucio goes through his things and finds a bag of fruits. Lucio immediately asks for them and Alma Sola lets him have some.
Back in the Desolato, the people are thrilled at the fruit Lucio brought to them. Almost everyone grabs a piece of the fruit except for Solem, her adoptive mother Mama Grandi and a few others. They made a wise choice as soon after eating the fruit, the old storyteller starts spinning crude stories of the ancestors and the young women suddenly become wild with the late evening dinner and story telling session evolving into some kind of Bacchanalia.
The next day, Mama Grandi is very upset at the way the young women acted the night before but they don’t care. The rest of Desolato longs for the fruit and are pleased when Lucio brings more after another visit to Alma Sola. In the cave, Alma Sola comes up with a very bizarre story about the origins of the fruit and tells Solem that he has a rain herb. Soon chaos ensues as the fruit supply finishes and some angry villagers believe Solem is keeping the fruit all to herself while others become sick. Alma Sola’s hiding place, the cave, is also discovered and he has to run away. Of course he doesn’t run away before seducing Solem and spending the night with her.
After all Alma Sola is Solem’s temptation, she’s Desolato’s priestess and she’s supposed to remain a virgin. Alma Sola disappears and Solem becomes pregnant keeping it a secret from the rest of the community.
To rush through the less interesting bits; the men of Desolato return bearing many gifts and material delights from San Christoph. The people discover that Solem is pregnant. In an attempt at finding out who the father of Solem’s baby is, the men of the village accuse Lucio. I found this interesting because Lucio is really a boy, probably not up to 14 years old. Look at the picture above! Solem attempts suicide but is stopped by a benevolent spirit whose face is covered with a white veil. Another man who held a torch for Solem, Birimbao is also accused. Solem faces punishment; a whipping before the entire village but the whipping never follows through (even though it did start, the punisher couldn’t go through with it…and Lucio sort of interrupted everything). A new priestess is promptly appointed, Palomba, a singer with a beautiful voice and one of Solem’s bullies pre-pregnancy and “exile”. Solem gives birth to a baby girl, Almacita.
Lucio and Solem remain friends after she delivers Almacita. There’s a lot of pressure in the community, children sing horrid songs about Lucio and Solem (perhaps they really believed Lucio was the father of her baby?) so Lucio and Solem set out on a mystical journey to Matriz di Piedat. Matriz di Piedat is said to be a cave created by Madrugada, the wife of the ancestor of the people of Desolato Insurektion. Madrugada broke a rock and made a cave for the spirit of the ancestors to reside in physical form. Sometimes ancestors and spirits are able to escape from the cave and possess their descendants.
Before Solem and Lucio cross Desolato’s borders, a group of kind villagers run to meet them offering protection against evil spirits and Alma Sola; salt. The search for Matriz di Piedat starts in the wilderness. There Solem leaves Almacita in Lucio’s care while she runs off for something. An evil spirit, also wearing a white veil over her face with horns and dragging a black goat approaches. The evil spirit gives Lucio some cheese and milk, she tries to lure the baby out of Lucio’s arms offering to carry Almacita. Solem appears and pushes the woman away. A fight ensues between Solem and the evil spirit but Lucio disables the spirit by pouring some of the protective salt on her and in the process burning her face. I don’t remember how exactly but the evil spirit vanishes and Solem and Lucio manage to escape.
They continue their search for Matriz di Piedat eventually reaching an oddly shaped rock. Lucio believes this rock is Matriz di Piedat because Matriz di Piedat is described as floating in the air. The place is not Matriz di Piedat however, another evil spirit emerges. This time it is Alma Sola asking for his daughter, Almacita. Solem threatens to kill the baby girl if Alma Sola tries to hurt them. He agrees to set them free if they can complete 3 impossible tasks. The first is to “make the wind blow” and create a storm. The second is to bring forth thunder and the third task is to make a heart of stone cry.
Solem dances and her feet raises dust as she moves around in circles. This creates a dust storm with thunder following closely behind it. Meanwhile the people of Desolato are shocked to see the skies darken with rain. As the first two tasks are completed, Alma Sola appears out of nowhere and traps Lucio in a strangle. It is time for them to complete the third task; they have to make Alma Sola cry. In desperation, Lucion recites a story of the wara-wara (an evil bird that guards the entrance to Matriz di Piedat) and the troupial and, to their surprise Alma Sola cries. Back in the village, rain finally falls and the people of Desolato sing and dance in it.
The movie could have ended here with everyone happy (except Palomba, for some reason she lost her voice when the rain fell) but Almacita dies. I guess it was inevitable because she was of the spirit world (at least part of her was from there). While Solem is distraught at the death of her baby, Lucio carries Almacita and continues the journey to Alma Sola. At the entrance of the cave, he encounters another spirit very similar to Alma Sola. This spirit collects Almacita from Lucion and carries her into the heart of the cave where the spirits dance and chant and bring Almacita back to life. Of course, Lucio couldn’t witness this first-hand, he almost died a few feet inside the cave. It must be due to the spirit world connection but when Lucio tries to follow the Alma Sola-like spirit into the cave, he starts coughing. The spirit tells him not to venture further, then on his way outside the cave Lucio faints!
In the end, Solem saves Lucio dragging him out of the cave while he tells her that Almacita is still alive because he heard her cry. Le fin.
I liked Almacita SoD enough to write this but I can give two reasons I enjoyed the story so much, i.e. apart from the rich cultural traditions and the plot. First, the effects were actually decent for a movie made in 1986. The spirits, especially the encounter with the horned evil spirit, was done really well and simply. Also I loved the costume design. The dresses, the headwraps (examples at the link) and the uniform Alma Sola and the Alma Sola-like spirit wore which are reminiscent of a soldier from a few centuries back.