A nun in 1960s Northern Ireland has been sent to a Catholic “Magdalene asylum” for fallen women, as a result of an unplanned pregnancy. She has feelings of ill-boding that plague her, as well as her own existential fears and crises. One day after confession, she ventures into a snowy field to tend to a cow, only to have it vanish in thin air.
Decades later in West Texas in 1989, the cow reappears at a gas station, along with a strangely burning bush near the gas station. The cow is apparently from Ireland, and the fire never goes out, throwing the inhabitants of this small town into a state of befuddlement at the mystery unfolding before them. And when they’re invaded by some kind of official unit on the trail of the cow, they realize there just might be something bigger at work — and an unexpected connection — beyond their own comprehension.
Starring iconic “Mean Girls” and “Mamma Mia” actress Amanda Seyfried, this dramatic short by writer-director Eli Powers is about miracles, mystery and magic, achieving a remarkable mastery of tone and mood through stellar craftsmanship and genuine vision.
Though it features captivating images and beautifully subtle performances by both Seyfried and actor Thomas Sadoski, it won’t an easy film for audiences used to straightforward stories that resolve into tidy packages. But if viewers can give themselves over to the potent blend of storytelling, imagery, sound and performance, it will reward them with a memorable experience of wry humor and expansive spirit.
The film has a sense of the spellbinding, which is built foremost through its luminous, arresting imagery. The content of the images themselves is both whimsical and humble, but the quality of light and the precise framing emphasizes an otherworldliness that suffuses the surfaces of the ordinary life portrayed. The visual approach reflects the writing’s balance of ethereal grace and human confusion, which persists despite what seems to be a miracle happening in front of their eyes.
The structure of the storytelling is ambitious in how it traverses time and place, opening up huge narrative questions right at the start of the film’s captivating opening sequence. Some of them are answered, but those answers lead to more questions and mysteries. In many ways, it feels like the beguiling opening movement of a feature, which makes sense: Powers and his producers (including Seyfried) intend the short as a proof-of-concept for a larger story. But as a standalone work, it functions almost like a haiku, packing an evocation of hugeness and transcendence within a remarkable economy of elements.
“Holy Moses” is, in many ways, a mystical film, in the sense that it is about the mystery, doubt and the unknowability of life, and how we live the questions often without any concrete answers. Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen once said, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
In many ways, this is a story about spiritual possibility seeping into the fissures of earthbound life, our own human reactions to it, clouded by our preoccupations and concerns — and the slow recognition of hidden beauty and connections across time and space. The final moments offer a tantalizing reveal that teases at another connection between its two disparate halves, but it also feeds the sense of a strange, lovely magic at work in the world behind worlds — a mysterious place that endows depth and wonderment to everyday life, and gives grace to the most ordinary of moments.