(Written by Allison Brown)
Raquel 1:1, directed by Mariana Bastos, is a horror-adjacent feminist thriller that packs a heavy punch. As someone who doesn’t take religion very seriously, I was excited to see what this film had to offer. It could either be something preachy I could not stand, or destroy all that pious followers hold dear. I am happy to say Raquel 1:1 goes for the latter, much stronger direction. With some similarities to 2021’s The Unholy and an improvement upon the subject matter in Cannes 2021 selection, Medusa, the film easily holds the audience’s attention as well as provides thought-provoking religious criticism. It is shocking that no one has implemented some form of Raquel’s work in this film on a large scale, despite buzz around her point of view sweeping internet discussion for years.
After the tragic loss of her mother, Vera, Raquel (Valentina Herszage) and her father, Hermes (Emílio de Mello), move to a small spiritual town in Brazil and open a grocery store. This is their last resort; Hermes lost their family bookstore, and they are in a lot of debt. Hermes finds religion to be a bit extreme and worthy of proceeding with caution. On the other hand, Raquel has recently embraced faith to cope with her maternal loss.
Raquel befriends two girls from a youth group, Laura (Eduarda Samara) and Ana Helena (Priscila Bittencourt), and spends the day with the pair at a stunning waterfall. Suddenly she hears a voice and follows it into the forest, where she stumbles upon an abandoned building. She moves closer and closer, and then the film abruptly cuts to Raquel panicked in her bathroom. As the movie progresses, Bastos reveals more and more of what happened in this profound, if not slightly traumatic experience.
Upon our first peak into the local church, it is clear that it exists purely to scare its followers into submission. Ironically female pastor Elisa and her daughter Ana Helena are two pretentious and scary women. Their sermons are dark and degrading. Evil is coming and likely to prevail, they say! Anyone who chooses to think differently will become an immediate enemy of God, as well as their church.
Raquel 1:1 essentially begins once Raquel starts to question the timeliness of the bible to her peers in the youth group. She asks Ana Helena if she agrees with a lot of the rhetoric against females in the bible, and if she believes women should be submissive to men. Of course, the pastor’s daughter gives a roundabout defense of each jab at the outdated rules. Raquel then asks, who actually wrote the bible? They come to a consensus that it was a lot of different people writing and rewriting, but that their words came from the mouth of the lord. Raquel eventually concludes that she believes “the Bible should be revised;” if all these people were rewriting it years ago, why not now! The group wholly appears to be disgusted, and Ana Helena implies that Raquel needs God now more than ever. Raquel storms out of the room and returns home to a text from Laura checking in on her. She tells Raquel that she agrees with all her critique, and she is not the only one. They plot to start their own group to reconstruct the bible, and Raquel reveals that she has been receiving signs. Meanwhile, Raquel discovers deep, oozing wounds all over her body.
Raquel 1:1’s cinematography is stunning. The cloud backdrop at the church almost makes it appear to be a photoshoot set. In this respect, it reveals this particular church for what it is: a shallow, narcissistic endeavor of people only worried about their outward appearance. The mystery element is well executed visually with an eerie, shrouded atmosphere. The choice to depict Laura as free versus guarded by letting down her hair is clever.
When the all-female group meets for the first time, they dig right in. Bastos wastes no time highlighting every horrendous portion of the bible. There are verses about raping a virgin daughter, stoning a woman to death, women staying quiet in church, restrictions on women’s attire, and prohibiting women from teaching or assuming authority over a man. One extreme section dismissed menstruating women as pariahs; anyone who touches a woman on her period will be unclean till evening. It is genuinely shocking to hear all these lines directly pulled from the text. Is this then implying that extremely pious women cannot be teachers? I doubt anyone follows this today. The bible is archaic, and the powers that be in the religious community really should be taking the necessary steps to reevaluate the text for an updated scripture. Hopefully conversation around Raquel 1:1 makes its way to the necessary decision makers in this regard. As stated in the final words of the film, “And to the woman was said…on behalf of all that passed and those who are yet to come, a new era must begin.”
As the narrative progresses, Elisa and Ana Helena turn the town again Raquel, and her searing past seeps its way through. By the end, I was furious and aggravated by the level of devout extremism in this ignorant town. It is tragic how easily people are swayed.
Raquel 1:1 rewrites the rules when it premieres at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival on Saturday, March 12th.