True/False 2023 Review: A Habit Starts to Form in Elizabeth Mirzaei’s Breathtaking “Natalia”

Natalia can’t get what she wants when she finds herself at a drive-thru for breakfast, wondering aloud if it’s too early to get a peach milkshake along with her chicken hash brown scramble, only to find that the decision has been basically made for her in the film that takes its name after her – she has to settle for vanilla when as a flavor, peach is just not available. This might seem like an unremarkable moment for most, or that she hums “Semi-Charmed Life” upon getting her food, if not for the fact that she’s dressed in a nun’s habit and the scene seems well outside the realm of what you might think of someone who would lead such a life and surely not the one that she expected to lead herself.

Director Elizabeth Mirzaei catches Natalia at a particularly fascinating time in her life, pretty firm in her decision for committing her life to the church but when those reasons are because she’s uncertain of herself, she can’t entirely be at peace. “Natalia” finds its title character preparing to take her final vows at an unidentified monastery somewhere in America, with Father Michael welcoming her from what seems to him a more surprising path than most who find their way into his flock, having graduated from the Colorado School of Mines with a degree in engineering. Her relatively spare living quarters look as they might’ve in the 19th century, but the church is decidedly modern when Father Michael hosts a podcast where Natalia can be heard professing that one shouldn’t assume her holiness has led her to devote her life to Christ, but that such a life is necessary for her to be holy.

That’s about as much as either her or Mirzaei will allow for why she’s made such a commitment, though one senses an unrequited search for personal fulfillment from the pictures of her past life, laid out like breadcrumbs in natural environments where they’re overtaken by accumulating sand and snow. Even with her immediate family accepting of the person she’s become, reminders of the person Natalia used to be occasionally come across in e-mails and voicemails and can certainly be seen in her boisterous personality where it’s highly improbable she’d become a woman of the cloth if she had to give up her “Star Trek” obsession and she enjoys chasing children around the playground as much as they do. When she makes no secret of how much she likes men or that she’d surely make a wonderful mother, the impending plan to give all that up seems a cause for concern and she acknowledges her loved ones are making a sacrifice the same as she is, watching her step into the unknown.

It’s a space that seems less abstract in the gorgeous black-and-white photography of Mirzaei, who observes that Natalia hardly has all the answers, but is asking herself the right questions to lead her, presenting faith in an uncommonly compassionate light in a secular film. Natalia’s own good humor assures that the film never takes itself too seriously, though it carries considerable weight and the director isn’t looking to convert, but she persuasively evokes what belief looks like in a tactile way, an occasionally fumbling and sometimes profound journey where the path to enlightenment is like wandering around with your hands out in the dark.

“Natalia” will screen at True/False on March 5th at 7:45 pm at the Willy Wilson at Ragtag Cinema.

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.