Of Love and Other Demons
Directed by Hilda Hidalgo
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
The characters in Hilda Hidalgo’s adaptation of the classic novel Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez inhabit a world of striking boundaries. Located on the tiny island of Costa Rica, there is a sharp distinction between that which is right and modern and that which is ancient and evil. The most beautiful building on the island is the seat of the Catholic Church, headed by a plump bishop who bemoans how the natives reject the Church for their old pagan religions. He presides over a land where the only white people are the nobility and the upper echelons of the faith. The natives are forced to live in poorer quarters where they can easily escape the view of the Cross and practice their old traditions. In this land, the tenuous balance between the two ways of life is fragile.
Therefore, it is made even more devastating when two lovers find themselves trapped between the two parts of society. It all begins when 13 year old Sierva María, a child of high nobility, is bitten by a rabid dog one morning in the marketplace. Terrified for her health, her father enlists the help of the Church who claim that she does not harbor an infection, but instead is possessed by demons. So she is locked away in the basement of a small convent where she is tied down to her bed as she wastes away. Convinced that she is not sick but possessed by Satan, the local bishop sends his assistant, 36 year old Cayetano Delaura, to be in charge of her welfare. A man of letters, Cayetano realizes that she is not possessed but merely sick. But the bishop will hear nothing of it, so he continues his watch over Sierva until she begins to invade his dreams.
As a man of faith, he cannot touch her. But as a man of science, he cannot abandon her. Herein lies the great conflict within the film. As Cayetano realizes that he is falling in love with Sierva, he has to make a choice between his faith and his heart.
The story may sound like a rehash of the classic Romeo and Juliet story archetype wherein two people fall in love only to be separated by some controlling force. But it is much more. Instead of blind love, each lover is confronted with challenges that redefine how they see the world and each other. Sierva finds herself trapped between two opposite worlds. Her “caretakers” represent blind faith as the nuns who attend her merely cross themselves when she throws up instead of trying to heal her. But one day a fellow captive sneaks into her cell to keep her company. This woman represents a complete lack of faith as she expounds humanist sayings such as how when we die, we cease to exist and how there is no God. Cayetano represents a median between the two extremes. A devout Catholic, he believes in possessions and the devil, but is hesitant to diagnose her as possessed. Constantly with his nose in a book, Cayetano dreams of one day working in the Vatican library. So he surrounds himself with knowledge that the Church finds questionable.
But Cayetano also finds himself in a state of confliction. His master is brunt and unreasonable, but he cannot challenge his authority. He needs to be with Sierva, but realizes that doing so may damn his soul. So we watch how the two lovers develop and how their feelings grow. In the furtive moments that they spend together in her cell, their passions are revealed, but suppressed. Watching their body language is a sensual delight, as a single caress becomes symbolic of a full consummation of love.
And really, Of Love and Other Demons is a film obsessed with such caresses. The cinematography constructs a world of evocative pastels and subdued hues. The brightest colors come in the form of the small insects and lizards that Sierva plays with. The soundtrack is filled with soft, gentle melodies that echo the lullabies that nannies croon to cranky, tired children. The director, Hilda Hidalgo, controls the pacing with a smooth, gentle touch. The film is consumed by striking close-ups that seem to regard Sierva’s face and long crimson hair and Cayetano’s constantly worried profile as a kind of fetish. It is a slow moving, delicately streaming film that plays like a poem or a passage of Márquez’s prose.