"Is there life after death?" This question has boggled our imaginations for thousands
of years. Possibly the only question as often asked is, "How were we created?"
City: A Spiritual Journey attempts to answer both questions. The movie is based
on the late Brazilian medium, Chico Xavier's best-selling novel, Nosso Lar. Chico
Xavier alleged that a spirit guide named Dr. Andre Luiz dictated his novel through
psychic channelings. The movie Astral City illustrates the good doctor's journey
through the afterlife.
Andre Luiz (Renato Prieto) was a successful doctor who met a sudden death while
in the prime of his life. He awakens to a hellish existence in a Purgatory-like
place called Umbral. It's implied that Dr. Luiz claws out a lonely, tormented existence
on this spiritual plane for years. Until, finally, Dr. Luiz begs for God's help
from the depths of his soul. A band of spirits rescues him and takes him to Astral City--what many of us probably recognize as Heaven. Here, Dr. Luiz experiences a spiritual
reawakening and seeks to collect enough merits to earn a visit to his living family.
Astral City is a standard spiritual journey where the central character wants to
nothing more than to visit his left behind family. It makes no effort to swerve
off this well beaten story path and is mostly a vehicle to present the main draw
of the film: the late Brazilian medium, Chico Xavier's, vision of the afterlife.
According to Xavier's revelations, life as we know it is not our true existence,
but a growth experience--one that we will likely experience more than once. True
life is what comes before and after our Earthly travels. Our time on Earth is an
in-depth, self-unaware role-playing game, which we plan in detail well before our
It's an optimistic and nondenominational view of the afterlife. The film makes no
mention of the Hell's eternal damnation. Instead, non-believers in God can expect
to endure a miserable existence in Umbral, a dark, boggy realm filled with lost
souls who scrape by for years until they finally beg God for their salvation. Astral
City purposely leaves this God untethered to any specific religion--multiple religious
symbols such as the Jewish Star of David are sprinkled throughout the sets. Audiences
are left to judge for themselves where, or if, their God fits into this multicultural
vision of the afterlife.
The acting in Astral City is merely adequate. The actors are given little to work
with as their characters all play second-fiddle to the settings. But they perform
their roles admirably. The story does not adequately develop Dr. Luiz's character
in the opening scenes that depict his suffering in Umbral. Any human suffering is
visually disturbing to witness, however Dr. Luiz is an unlikeable, arrogant character
through the first act and a portion of the second. I did not connect with Dr. Luiz's
character until after he proves his merit in the Astral City hospital. If the storyline
focused more on Dr. Luiz's spiritually empty and materialistic Earthly life, I may
have had more empathy for his early suffering and rooted for his redemption. Until
the halfway point of the film, I was much more interested in the movie's glimpses
of heaven than any characters.
My initial impression of Xavier's Astral City was that its material is hardly groundbreaking
and mimicked many similar interpretations of the afterlife that I read in other
books. I was unaware that most of those books are, in fact, probably derivative
of Xavier's novel, Nosso Lar, which was originally published in 1944. This movie
is based on the book that may be the genesis of the entire New Age movement. Fascinating.
Astral City's depiction of life after death is worthwhile to anyone willing to entertain
alternative explanations of heaven and God. As for the movie, the storyline is underdeveloped
and utilitarian, but it's still highly watchable.
Video: The video is presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen. Although the visuals
of heaven are stylized and eye-catching, compression artifacts are abundant and
noticeable throughout the movie. And they do detract from the visual immersion.
At the time of its production, Astral City was the highest budget film in Brazilian
history. The detailed, handpainted quality of Astral City's backgrounds is stunning
at times. The video quality of this transfer is unfortunate because it had potential
to stand as one of the finest quality visual experiences available on DVD. Shame,
Audio: The audio is presented in 2.0 stereo. The only available track is the Portuguese
track with English subtitles. Honestly, I was so focused on reading the subtitles
and taking in the scenery that I didn't notice the audio all that much. That is
to say, nothing stood out as remarkable in the audio department.
Extras: Astral City includes seven Making Of featurettes that cover the plot, production
design, making Astral City's wall, a gag reel, and Umbral. This crew takes great
pride in their results--it's fun just listening to them exude enthusiasm in their
Portuguese. All of the featurettes are subtitled. I'm not sure what a "gayser" is,
but perhaps the Strand Releasing subtitle department can fill us in. Also included
are trailers for other Strand Releasing films.
Bottom Line: I'm an admitted skeptic of the paranormal, religion, and claims of
the afterlife. But I'm also open-minded. Astral City presents an optimistic vision
of life after death that frankly, I would hope is close to the mark. Chico Xavier's
claims that he wrote his book through a spirit guide named Dr. Andre Luiz are dubious
and wholly unprovable by any scientific measure. But this same argument can be made
about any religious experience--they're all based solely on faith in their prophets'
veracity. Ultimately, Astral City is a wonderful and picturesque interpretation
of Chico Xavier's writings. It's an uplifting film for viewers who seek life's meaning
or others who simply want a nice, change-of-pace, popcorn flick. Recommended.