by Nicholas Yap Film

Liborio | Nino Martínez Sosa

Credit: Film at Lincoln Center

Olivorio Mateo, a farmer-turned-prophet whose providential oversight and teachings later influenced the Liborista movement, is the subject of Nino Martínez Sosa’s sophomore work, Liborio (named so by his followers). The occasion of his disappearance during a hurricane, and reincarnation as a mystic, gifted with powers of healing, provides an opportune lead-in to the film’s manifold dalliances with the supernatural and totemic. His return, growing sphere of influence within the Dominican South, and the military clampdown precipitated by his commune’s refusal to yield to colonial rule, are related through the lenses of six different followers. Each represents a singular set of coordinates by which to locate and authenticate the figure of Liborio, whether through Eleuterio’s clandestine entry into the private world of his master’s rituals or Plinio’s naïve assimilation of his belief system; their levelled perspectives in accordance with the principles of egalitarianism and collectivism encoded in his faith. All, however, remain expectedly distanced and disarticulated. Sosa’s approach to the incompatibility of collective memorialization, then, proves simultaneously his film’s highlight and crucial failing. Wielded like a cudgel against the beast of biographical precision and factual bookkeeping, Sosa’s dissolution of familiar outlines sees Liborio’s miracle-making reduced to peripheral expressions of wonder and validation across his disciples’ faces, his performances displayed with a surprising ambiguity that could, in certain quarters, be taken as heretical.

While not opposed to soaking in the spiritual enrichment and ecstasy that serve as meaningful ends to Liborio’s practice, this technique stands at odds with the film’s initial enigmas and its positioning of the healer as a talisman to all, conceived beyond reason and reproach; replaced instead with a filter of desultory normality. Since the man and his believers are outlined with an equally cursory attention to motivation, or interior deliberation, what emerges is a tangle of varying loyalties and innatisms whose differences are pronounced just enough to signify minor disunity, but vague and ultimately unimportant enough that the group’s eventual deracination renders them moot. Additionally, their undying adherence-to-the-cause, while never venturing into the textual ethos to contextualize it as paean, is cast-in from the get-go and frays noticeably with the above-mentioned refusal to depict Liborio’s newfound divinity as anything beyond imaginative construction. Amid the middle third’s tail-chasing accrual of everyday detail and communal gatherings — a curious, anthropological tack that’s organic flow is again interrupted by the respective subjectivities to which these observations are frequently tied back to — moments of personal rupture do occur. An energetic folk dance, which frees long-stifled emotions and doubts and ends in a violent confrontation, peeling Liborio’s unflappable demeanor several layers back, allows divisions previously observed to follow their natural conclusions off the beaten path and evinces a narrative filling at odds with prior determination. The commune’s sublimation into individual thought and deed with its leader’s brutal death at the hands of the occupying force only brings to light the lack of matching delineation between its members here; they can hence only be assumed as an undistinguished mass wherein perceptions, interpretations, and inclinations yield to a standard consensus that retreats to the established toolkit of history-writing.


Published as part of New Directors/New Films 2021 — Dispatch 3.

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