O Apóstolo is a beautifully crafted, spooky ghost fable by Fernando Cortizo which, I hope, gets some chance at a wider audience after festivals and the like. The film does something I absolutely love in animated films which is to tell a story that doesn’t actually need to be animated to be effective. To have animation (and in this case, stop-motion) be a tool rather than a crutch in storytelling is a rarer and rarer thing anymore. If you could’ve easily told the story you intend to tell in live-action but instead use the painstaking craft of animation to pull it off, well, that is worth something. Studio Ghibli’s recent, lovely From Up On Poppy Hill comes to mind as an example of great storytelling made even better by creative, lush artistry.
O Apóstolo tells the story of Ramón (Carlos Blanco) and Xavier (Luis Tosar of Sleep Tight), a couple thieves who escape prison with the intent of tracking down some stolen jewels Xavier had hidden away in a small farmhouse in a small village years earlier. Almost immediately they split up (by accident) and Ramón must make his way to Xanaz alone with the hope, or maybe not, of meeting back up with Xavier to recover the bounty. Xavier is wonderfully voiced by Luis Tosar; he gives you the impression he might be up to something with just a slight tonal change. This possible threat/double-cross tilts the viewer off-kilter slightly so as we get to know Ramón in his lone journey to Xanaz, we are also keenly aware that his less-than-admirable detection skills might be the death of him. This becomes more urgent as he finally makes it to the village and anyone, and I mean anyone paying the slightest bit of attention would see things are a bit off in this small village. Ramón is more focused on the jewels and because of this stumbles himself straight into a mess for which he might not get to escape to tell the tale.
This village is cursed by a supernatural presence that renders them stagnant, in-fear and warped with manipulative intentions towards outsiders. This is personified in Don Cesáreo, the local priest who drips charm initially but quickly replaces that with less-than-virtuous behavior, stealing and acrid meanness dealt out at random. The quick transition of the character is a joy to watch, made all the better by Xose Manuel Olveira in the role. So you have a thieving priest, a bunch of villagers in cahoots, a ghostly problem and a punch of religious themes intertwined in all of it.
So how does it all come together?
Well, as many fables go, the message of O Apostolo is much more compelling than the story itself and so you’re left with what you want to make of Ramón’s character arc and who he is at the end versus at the beginning. Watching him learn what it means to give over to the unknown versus the known quantities of life (and afterlife for that matter) is satisfying enough to serve as a cautionary moral. The film is strikingly lovely to look at and the artistry of it is no small feat. From the corners of rooms to the edges of windowsills to the tiny details of bookcases and all the rest, O Apostolo is a wonderful film to look at and appreciate. Couple this with a delightfully creepy soundtrack (scored, in part, by Phillip Glass!!) and you have a charming ghost story with some sweeping morality ideas mixed in for good measure. A winning film, for sure.