The Cathar

By Liam Hendrix Heath | Drama
A washed-up musician meets a psychic who convinces him to find a long-lost treasure.

Anthony is a washed-up musician who comes under the sway of a charismatic, supremely confident psychic named Gloria. She convinces him that he's the incarnation of a Cathar, a practitioner of a late medieval Christian Gnostic movement that took hold in Europe between the 12th and 14th centuries but was persecuted for their unorthodox take on religion.

Anthony's belief takes him to France, where he begins searching for treasure. (He also brings along Gloria for support and guidance, footing her bill.) His increasingly skeptical daughter Maya accompanies him, but when he runs afoul of the law for property damage and trespassing, Maya eventually confronts her father as he gets lost further in what she sees as a scam.

Written and directed by Liam Hendrix Heath, this short drama is equal parts thought-provoking and compassionate, building a portrait of a man's search for purpose and meaning as it intersects with a "post-truth" modern world riven with conspiracy theories and disinformation. Beautifully crafted on all levels from visuals and writing to performance and editing, its storytelling truly begins with Anthony's first encounter with the psychic, regarding a series of vivid dreams he's been having. Gloria tells him about his past life as a Cathar, a vision vividly rendered with a lucid, visceral power. For Anthony and the audience, this sequence will resonate in the imagination for the film's mostly naturalistic duration. With its vividness, we can understand how it both gives Anthony's life meaning and beauty, driving him to pursue the promise of ancient treasure.

The scope of the story itself is ambitious for its short length, traversing not just several locations and a growing cast of characters, but a deep dive into Anthony's transformation into a true believer. The counterpoint is his daughter Maya, who humors him at first until she realizes just how far her father is moving away from the mainstream of life -- and how much influence Gloria is exerting over him and his savings.

Actor David Heath -- who is the director's father -- offers a portrait of a man grasping for truth, and he plays both the certainty of a fanatic holding tight to his views and the core of doubt and fear fueling that stranglehold on surety. As Gloria, actor Brix Smith -- indie music aficionados may recognize her as a member of the seminal post-punk band the Fall -- has both sly confidence and a sphinxlike sense of mystery, a combination that pulls Anthony into her orbit. Where that orbit leads, though, may end up pulling Anthony farther and farther away from his loved ones into a future full of unknowns.

Compelling and full of intrigue and empathy, "The Cathar" works with themes of our vulnerability to conspiracies and questions of whether or not truth and reality are absolutes or what we make of them. But ultimately the film achieves a more emotional, haunting resonance because it is empathetic to how a fundamental human quest for meaning and purpose drives us, and how lost we feel when we are disconnected from a larger truth. We also see how easy it is to grasp onto anything that offers that spiritual sustenance -- and how tightly we grip it when we have nothing else. In its final images, Anthony marches into the unknown -- with purpose and drive, but also away from a reality he once shared with his daughter and the rest of the world.

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