"People tell me their sins." is, if nothing else, a great way to start such an odd film. As Bernadette narrated her introduction during the opening scene of this short film, I knew this flick was going to be a weird one. I wasn't disappointed. Shot as if we had gone way back in time wasn't the only indicator James Ristas was pushing for an unusual and unique movie; there was also the very execution and images that shouted, "Hey, I'm different - look at me!" Although a little unsure, I was instantly curious and perhaps even smiled a little. This is the beauty of indie movies, the ability to answer to nobody but yourself - and sometimes, it pays off in spades.
The quick, almost spoiler-free synopsis? After leaving her would-be husband during the wedding ceremony, Bernadette informs her soon to be ex that she has decided to become a saint. With that said, it means she can not marry him. In a rage, sort of, he informs her that he will proceed to do bad in the world until she comes around and marries him. He will do so much evil, in fact, that becoming his wife will actually do more good for the world. She doesn't buy it, and he sets off with friends to get in all sorts of trouble. Very quickly, he and his "crew" decide to rape a woman; she gets hold of his gun and shoots one of them. Coincidentally, he had stolen the gun from a priest. Before the wounded man dies, Bernadette absolves him of his sins - and the man goes to heaven instead of hell. After, as Bernadette tries to absolve the woman who committed murder, she is hesitant. She was only defending herself; she didn't do anything wrong. The remainder of the film explores the notions of good, evil, sin, and repentance. Eventually, Bernadette is confronted by her would-be husband once again, but we'll leave the rest of the film for you, the viewer, to discover. What I can say, is that this is a strange movie - and I don't mean that in a bad way.
So, is it a good thing to kill if the reason seems right? Is the church truly a representative of God, or does it only serve men and the greed of mankind? What happens when a saint goes around absolving people of their sins outside of the church? Does that make the saint bad? Does that make them an enemy of the church? These are all questions asked in this film and honestly, "Burn a Debt" is one big conundrum. A lot of these questions have been asked before, but not quite in this way. You see, reader, James Ristas has some pretty weird imagery attached to this short film. And that weirdness is what makes this movie one to at least check out.
From the bumbling bad guys to the outright profanity used in the movie, it's clear Ristas' and his troupe wants nothing more than to shock its viewers a little. I guess the theory is that anything shocking gets people's attention, and I believe that is a very correct notion. From bleeding statues, to some excellently atmospheric uses of plastic army men, this film doesn't spare the whip, as it lashes out over and over. The old-school vibe and colors of the film only enhance its overall weirdness - and it definitely worked for me.
No matter your belief system, when it's all said and done, "Burn a Debt" managed to grab my attention and never let go until the very end. It asks a lot of tough questions - but you only notice these questions because of how this film is put together. Is it perfect or technically impressive? The exact opposite, actually, and it's the imperfect nature that offers up the most charm. Three and a half stars.