Part documentary, part travelogue, part worship service, “¡Viva Kino!” is unfortunately too confused about its component parts to ever coalesce into what it would like to be, a stirring, Mexican-centric tribute to the 17th-century missionary Eusebio Kino.
The Italian Jesuit arrived in New Spain in 1687 and over 24 years, while founding dozens of missions in Baja California and what would become Sonora and southern Arizona, he established a relationship with the indigenous population that many consider especially enlightened. Director Lea Beltrami’s heartfelt if amateurish movie is built around holistically photographed scenes of a horseback pilgrimage taken by present-day Mexicans that retraces Kino’s steps as a desert-communing explorer and compassionate uniter of disparate peoples. (His cartographic acumen led him to draw up Mexico’s first detailed maps, and he’s credited with introducing European farming techniques to the Pima Indians that broadened their agriculture.)
But the movie is also a devotional meander — with attendant interviews — across many towns where Kino is celebrated with festivals, dances and, at the Nogales border, a Catholic humanitarian initiative in his name that helps ease the transition back to Mexico for the deported.
All well and good for the history novice, and its desire to canonize its subject as an aspirational figure during our time of fearful border talk is well-intentioned. But “¡Viva Kino!” — which also inserts narrated snippets from the priest’s writings — never rises above the level of supplemental video material.
In Spanish and English with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 1 minute
Playing: Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood