An astonishing tale of a beautiful art student seeking her soul in Australia’s Outback.
Hungry for a rush, Alma jumps into her mother’s “second car” and, sound-system blaring Björk, speeds into Sao Paulo’s Paraisópolis, its bleakest favela or slum. So starts a masterpiece by visionary Dutchman Nooteboom (All Souls’ Day, 2001, etc.). Descending into this underworld, she’s assailed, possibly gang-raped, pitched anyway into a “black cloud” of dark experience. She’s a rare soul, drawn equally to songs of innocence as of experience, mad for Raphael, Botticelli, Giotto, any transcendent painting—“as long as there are wings.” She has a thing for angels. Her best friend, Almut, who lines her own walls with “de Kooning and Dubuffet and all those disintegrating figures and faces,” doesn’t. She’s Alma’s reality principle, down-to-earth Aristotelian to Alma’s Platonist spirit. The Brazilians, however, share a yearning: to visit the “Sickness Dreaming Place,” Australia’s oldest landscape, still primeval home to Aborigines who aren’t tourist attractions but seers, artists, creatures. Arriving in Perth, the pair part ways—Almut to explore and party, Alma to fall in fleeting life-and-death love with an Abo painter, mute and a force of nature. Almut teases Alma about her “Noble Savage,” but Alma is in fact transformed. The women then work an unlikely festival, playing “angels” for a city-wide extravaganza, wherein, like the “living statues” you see in Boston or San Francisco, actors mimic seraphim in malls or parking lots. Wings on her back, Alma is deployed by the organizers to lie still in a closet atop a staircase. Until another kind of lover arrives…
Luminous. Numinous. Glorious.