Do a quick Google search on the sleepy French village of Bugarach and you’ll find that its economy “is based on agriculture and tourism”. Sounds pretty quaint and quiet, right? You’d be right to think so. In Sergi Cameron and Ventura Durall’s documentary, also called Bugarach, the town looks like the set of Chocolat.
When word spreads however that this remote little town would be only place in the world to survive the Mayan End of the World, Bugarach becomes the focus of media and tourist attention. This documentary shows what the villagers do with this new limelight as the ‘Doomsday Destination’. Naturally, they capitalise on it.
Historically, Bugarach is known to offer mystical, mythical power. Jesus Christ’s body is apparently buried at the foot of Bugarach Mountain, moved there during the time of the Crusades in the Middle Ages. Over time, Bugarach has developed a reputation amongst New-Age aficionados. At one point, the film shows one villager taking tourists on guided hikes up Bugarach Mountain. His groups hug the trees, like they’re eager to sap them of their life force.
The Mayor is well aware of the impact that tourism will have on the local economy, and welcomes the visitors. Bugarach, all of a sudden has more media attention than ever before, and the locals are finally able to step into the limelight, like the young Magician who finally has an audience larger than his immediate family. But is making money off the vulnerable (i.e. the Mayan Doomsday believers) the best way to grow the local economy?
While everyone else gears up for Doomsday, the characters we follow instead eagerly await the arrivals of the out-of-towners. There’s a man who “helps bring people across from this world to the next” and another eccentric man who lives in “The House of Spirits”. Perhaps a candidate for the police Watch List in ordinary circumstances, but in the context of this documentary, he’s just another man drawn into the power of Bugarach as a place of new-age solace.
On the flip side of this almost comedic rise in popularity, the villagers must also prepare for the possibility of mass suicides while the Mayor of the town has a lax approach to the serious harm the Doomsday “visitors” will have on the village. Do the villagers fear “outsiders” now, whether by humans or aliens?
Whilst Bugarach is not only interesting, it’s also well-made. Throughout the film, there is plenty of “breathing room” and quiet moments that really allow the audience to get a good look at the villagers and their dreams for themselves after the tourists have gone home and the village once again returns to normal. As documentary style goes, this one comes without any narration or interviews by the people of Bugarach. The viewer really is like a fly on the wall here, giving this documentary less of a reportage feel and more of a feature film feel. The pace too, also adds to the Doomsday eeriness theme.
The most telling line in the documentary comes from one character, “It’s impressive how much people like the irrational”. It echoes the idea outside of Bugarach that organised religion and blind faith can lead one on pilgrimages to heal, and how quickly these become money-making schemes rather than aide for those in need of real help. Additionally, the final scene with the young Magician, making the planet reappear, is truly touching.
Bugarach shows how the nature of a village can change when it has something commercial to offer, and how strange that is when that money-spinner comes in the form of mysticism and new-age spirituality.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Bugarach is showing this Sunday (October 19th) as part of the Antenna Documentary Film Festival in Sydney.