Review and Interview: Chronicles of a Wandering Saint


I had the immense pleasure of watching Tomás Gómez Bustillo’s debut feature film Chronicles of a Wandering Saint and interviewing him via Zoom this week. The Argentinian director received his MFA at the AFI Conservatory and has since directed several short films and commercials. His oeuvre explores the wonders of the human condition and our ability to connect with one another. Chronicles of a Wandering Saint and Bustillo’s short film Museum of Fleeting Wonders are both magical yet humanistic, balancing humor with the melancholy of life. The result is rather dreamy.

Chronicles of a Wandering Saint Trailer #1 (2024)

Chronicles of a Wandering Saint
Director: Tomás Gómez Bustillo
Release Date: June 28, 2024 (Limited)

Chronicles of a Wandering Saint tells the story of Rita (Mónica Villa). She is the janitor at her local church and is a pious yet competitive woman. After discovering a forgotten statue while cleaning, she plots to stage a miracle and “find” the lost statue of Saint Rita. She manages to rope in her husband, Norberto (Horacio Marassi), and convince Father Eduardo (Pablo Moseinco) of her little “miracle,” triggering a scheme that proves to be her downfall.

While driving home one day, Rita accidentally runs over the church dog and crashes into a nearby creek. Unfortunately, they both die. Bustillo rolls the credits before switching to another story arc: the ascension of Rita to Heaven. In a reflection of magical realism, a movement of literature often seen in Latin American writing, the mundanity of life is contrasted with magical, surreal elements that turn the realism of the human condition into something a bit more dreamlike. 

Rita is introduced to her ascension options by a young man, Angel (Nahiel Correa Dornell), who daylights as an angel. She is informed that she will begin to glow when her time on Earth is over, and must follow a guide to the place of her death to ascend to Heaven. If she fails to follow this simple rule, she will be stuck on Earth forever. Conversely, she will be brought to the Heavenly Gates and achieve sainthood if she succeeds.

Rita stands in the center of a field at night. Her whole body is glowing. Chronicles of a Wandering Saint

From Hope Runs High.

The second half of the film ruminates on the relationships Rita left behind. There are the church ladies, with whom she always felt she had to prove her piousness, but mostly it’s with her husband Norberto – she watches him take the fall for her little “miracle” and mourn the loss of his wife. In the film’s final moments, Rita decides to stay on Earth for the magic of human life, and her soul is transferred into Norberto’s guitar. Rita’s growth depicts her understanding that the magic and miracles she was obsessed with during her life are not the result of some higher power, but of the humans who worship them.

I chatted with Tomás Gómez Bustillo about his film Chronicles of a Wandering Saint over Zoom before the film’s NYC premiere on June 28th. We discussed the inspirations for the film, the difficulties of balancing humor with melancholy, and what it was like to make his first feature-length film.

INTERVIEW with Tomás Gómez Bustillo:

S: So, how was it transitioning from short films and commercials to a feature-length film? Were there any difficulties, or was it easier than you imagined?

T: They’re definitely different mediums, because with the short you can so easily get away with a single tone, with a single concept in short form, and oftentimes that’s better. I always feel like a short is a moment, and a feature is a whole arc. It requires a larger toolkit than what I expected. In writing, you have to really be conscious that it’s an hour and a half to two hours and you have to make that experience fluctuate enough that it doesn’t feel monotonous. It’s like writing a long essay versus writing a tweet.

S: I think the ‘moment’ you described is interesting because your short film Museum of Fleeting Wonders is a series of moments, and Chronicles of a Wandering Saint felt like an expansion of a moment. Was that intentional?

T: It would seem that way on the outside, but technically it was the other way around. I had already written the feature and I wanted to try out a little bit of the tone and aesthetic of what I could imagine the feature could be like. So I created little moments that felt like they could either be in the movie, or that belonged in the same universe of the movie, and then from there, I built it out. 

S: That’s really smart because the feature allows you to expand those moments in ways that would be harder in a short. Before I watched Chronicles I looked at a couple of reviews and saw people talking about the bait-and-switch with the credits being in the middle of the film that divided it into two complete halves. It was very interesting, and it didn’t really cut the tone in half but it felt natural because Rita died and then became this wandering ghost. Did you have any reason or inspiration for doing that?

Norberto and Rita sit together at their dining table to eat dinner. They are both wearing yellow rain coats.

From Hope Runs High.

T: Yeah, I think the term bait-and-switch was something that I thought about explicitly early on. The idea of chopping up the movie in half was probably one of the first ideas that got me excited about making this project because it was like “Could I get away with this?” It’s not something that I feel [like] is innovative because Hitchcock did it with Psycho and there were other references like Tropical Malady and About Ellie. So for me, as an audience member, I love a good bait-and-switch. It’s one of the most exciting things that can happen to you in a movie theater, to have your expectations turned upside down and still enjoy it.

S: Yeah, I really enjoyed it. It was almost novelistic in a way. The film is so understated but by the end, you know these characters and are wondering what they’re going to do. How did you fit minimalism into your story?

T: Minimalism is incredibly difficult. I feel like it’s the endpoint of the process, not the beginning. Simplicity is incredibly difficult to achieve. For many drafts of the screenwriting process, they were just so cluttered and so bloated, and it really takes a lot of drafts where you realize that it’s just too much, that you can do more with less. I think film just really thrives on sounds and images and emotions, and not very elaborate plots. A lot of times plot is just an excuse to explore something else. If I keep the story lean enough then I can really soak in these moments and capture the beauty of that place and Rita’s emotions as she explores this new world.

S: It’s also finding the magic of these moments, and I think that’s something Rita explores in this film. She has these ideas of sainthood and these grand miracles but by the end, it’s these small moments with her husband and the ladies from her church. Magical realism is a pretty big subgenre in Latin American literature, did you have any inspirations from that specific genre?

T: Absolutely. I would say that I’m more influenced by literature than by films. My first love was always reading and writing. I could probably trace the biggest influence, for this movie particularly, to Gabriel García Márquez and One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was something that resonated with me at such a profound level that I felt like I lived their lives, that I had seen all those generations of that family and become a ghost roaming through their house. That approach to the fantastical felt so real to me because that’s how my own life was growing up super Catholic in Latin America. You experience the mundane nature of very supernatural things. So much of that informed my approach to the film.

Norberto and Rita look out their window.

From Hope Runs High.

S: You mentioned that you grew up Catholic. That must have had a huge impact on you considering the subject matter of Chronicles of a Wandering Saint. Do you want to elaborate on that?

T: The biggest thing is just the world. When I was in my late teens I was a Catholic missionary in the specific town where we shot the movie. As a missionary, I would essentially just go out and visit every summer and winter break with the missionary group and we would go around this small town of about 300 people and speak with whoever wanted to speak with us. Most often it was the elderly women who would want to speak because they were the ones who were home, and the ones more interested in speaking about religion. What I realized was not a lot of the conversations ended up being religious, I just ended up hanging out with them and making friends with this group that I otherwise might never have interacted with. Years later, even though I’m no longer Catholic, the affection that I have for this place and the affection that I have for those people felt like a very unique world that I could bring to life that hadn’t been seen very much in film yet.

S: It almost feels like religion becomes a vehicle for connection.

T: I think so, it’s a culture there. I was not very interested in exploring religion per se but just the people and their culture, and that includes religion in that specific place.

S: It definitely landed! How was it trying to find that balance of humor and melancholy, did it come naturally with the characters and the story?

T: I wish I could say that it came very naturally and easily, but that would be an overly romanticized answer to a much more complicated process. It’s a three-year process where you do a ton of drafts, in some of them the comedy is too broad and others are too serious and others are too heartbreaking. The screenwriting process is like a little laboratory where you’re trying out different combinations. From the very beginning, I knew what the feeling I was going for was, but I wouldn’t know what it looked like until it was a little more finished. It was three years of finding that balance.

Angel (standing) takes a photograph of a sitting Rita in an empty building. Chronicles of a Wandering Saint

From Hope Runs High.

S: I think Rita was very fleshed out and I was happy to see her decide to stay. It was a very unique take on that experience of purgatory before she decided to stay “stuck” on Earth. It was fun to see people from her life as the angels and demons taking people on this journey. How was it creating this interpretation of what this purgatory space might be like?

T: It was really fun, to be honest, and it was also about finding the right balance. The key thing there was to bring these normally very fantastic elements and put them in such ordinary spaces and have them speak in such mundane ways that it would fit under the umbrella of magical realism. It’s presenting the magical with complete realism to the point where it almost feels trivial. It’s like “Yeah, I work 9-5 as a devil, so what?” and it’s just a job. It’s about putting those fantastical elements in everyday spaces with everyday people so that the story wouldn’t focus on them, and that the story would really be more about the ordinary rather than the extraordinary elements in the film. 

S: Was there any particular moment in the process of making this film that was really special for you?

T: Honestly, there’s so many. I’ll say one of the first really amazing ones was the costume fitting for the characters where I saw the actors in their costumes for the first time. It was a very pinch-me moment because for the first time, these characters that have lived in my mind for years were right in front of me. It was kind of hallucinatory in the best way possible. Another moment was the premiere, where finally you see your movie on the big screen in front of an audience. You hear people laughing, and a couple people sniffling at the end. You realize you made a movie, even if it’s not perfect. That’s a really rewarding moment.

Chronicles of a Wandering Saint is now playing in select cities across the United States, including NYC and LA.




A feat of magical realism, balancing the trivialness of the human condition with the fantasticalness of life and death.

Sophia Schrock
Sophia (they/them) currently lives in Jersey City, NJ. They are passionate about queer cinema, horror, anything gothic, and their beloved cat Salem.