What is a Saint?
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 06/11/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Marco Bellocchio is brave thinker and a fine writer who is unafraid to take on controversial subjects concerning Catholicism in the country where the Vatican watches everything very carefully. His work has been labeled 'blasphemous' but it seems Bellocchio is more interested in stirring the thoughts of his viewers than in defaming religion. MY MOTHER'S SMILE, (Il sorriso di mia madre) or 'Ora di religione' (The Religion Hour)as it is also known in Italy, is a sophisticated look at family, personal spiritual concepts, and honesty in a setting of peculiar circumstances that make for a uniquely fascinating film.
Painter Ernesto Picciafuocco's (Sergio Castellitto) is an atheist, separated from his wife Irene (Jacqueline Lustig) who has custody of his son. His son Leonardo (Alberto Mondini) has, for reasons unknown to Ernesto, become interested in religion and Irene informs Ernesto when he comes to pick up the child that he has been heard speaking to God. What follows this disclosure is a father/son sensitive discussion about Ernesto's atheism and his son's need to believe in an afterlife and a God. Disturbed by his son's state of mind, Ernesto is further challenged by a visit from a Vatican priest who informs Ernesto that his mother is about to be canonized! Ernesto is apparently the last to learn of this turn in family events (being an atheist) and discovers the family is pushing to have the canonization hurried in order to raise their status (and money) in Italy's social realm. Ernesto cannot comprehend why his mother should be made a saint as she has been less of a mother than most: her candidacy is based on the fact that as she was murdered by her own son Egidio (Donato Placido) she forgave him, making her a martyr. And apparently a family friend Filippo Argenti (Gianni Schicchi) prayed to the mother and was healed, making her a miracle worker! The family and the church need Ernesto's witness to the incidents for the canonization to be complete and it is here that the conflicts rise to the boiling point with a duel, a physical affair with a religion teacher, and confrontations between Ernesto and his brother Egidio and his family and the warriors of the church. Ernesto's liberal bent marks his journey of self-investigation that explores his morality and honesty by means of his art as he physically alters significant edifices of the old order of Rome into the deconstructed fantasies of his paintings.
Bellocchio frames his complex story with magnificent photography and a cast of actors who are not only credible in their roles but also create a sense of reality versus surrealism. Sergio Castellitto is brilliant as the tortured artist who must make a decision between his family's needs and his own belief system. The music that accompanies this film is composed by Riccardo Giagni who extrapolates curious but excellent excerpts from John Adams' "Harmonielehre", Vinicio Capossela's "Che cossè l'amor" from "Camera a sud", Gia Kancheli's "Psalm 23" from 'Exil', Aaron Jay Kernis's "Musica Celestis", and John Tavener's "... Depart in Peace" and "Tears of the Angels" - one of the more sophisticated musical scores on record.
MY MOTHER'S SMILE requires a lot from the viewer: to stay abreast with the many characters and to follow the maze of interactions takes a lot of concentration. But the overall effect of the film is one of great beauty and significant philosophical importance. Worth repeated viewings and highly recommended. In Italian with English subtitles. Grady Harp, June 06
Not Your Typical Saint Movie
Timothy Kearney | Hull, MA United States | 07/19/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"MY MOTHER'S SMILE caught my interest because it deals with a religious subject: Catholic sainthood, and as a Catholic, saints intrigue me. The story revolves around painter Ernesto Picciafuocco (played by Sergio Castellitto), an atheist who learns that his mother is being considered for canonization. I assumed that the film would have a rather predictable plot, that Ernesto would have a conversion experience based on his mother's saintliness. This is hardly what happens. Ernesto learns that in order for his mother to be canonized, he has to lie and state that his mother died for trying to get stop her son Egidio, Franciscan from blaspheming, thereby making her a martyr. The truth is that Egidio is mentally ill and killed his mother in her sleep, which makes her a victim, and perhaps worthy of sainthood, but not a martyr. The central conflict in the film is whether Ernesto will participate in his family's lie so that the prestige the family once had could be restored, or whether he will be true to himself. I'll let you see for yourself what happens.
The film is not an accurate portrayal of the canonization process in the Catholic Church. One example could be a case in point. In the film, Ernesto's aunt states that canonization is free so the family has nothing to loose. Well the reason Dorothy Day's family and associates have not pushed for her canonization is that the process is not free. The group petitioning for canonization has to pay the costs and Day's family and friends believe she would not have wanted this since she was such an advocate for the poor. She also would not have been too recently deceased. True Mother Teresa's canonization was rather fast and no doubt the same will happen for Pope John Paul II, but the late Mrs. Picciafuocco is not a Mother Teresa or John Paul II. For people who are interested, Kenneth Woodward's MAKING SAINTS describes canonization rather well. Perhaps because it was so devoid of reality, it made the dilemma of Ernesto more real and can make readers look at the roles of honesty and integrity in one's life. What harm wood it do for an atheist to lie about something that doesn't matter to him? For Ernesto we see it matters a great deal.
The film is well acted and the story is interesting, but it's not without flaws. In my opinion the Catholic Church is somewhat caricatured. We see this anytime the family is in the Vatican. A powerful Cardinal is flanked by the Picciafuocco family and ominous warlike music plays in the background that evokes a fear-like feeling. Perhaps twenty five years ago this would have been groundbreaking, today it's familiar territory. Since religion really is not the focus of the film, this image doesn't advance the plot. While it's not a long film, it does drag at points. Still, it's an interesting film and worth watching, though if you're debating whether to buy it or rent it, I'd lean toward renting.
God Bless the atheist
The Concise Critic: | New England | 12/30/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Was there repentance? Was there canonization? Was there a mistress? (And, if so, was she a prostitute, a co-conspirator, or--more, simply--just a liar?)
Perhaps one must be religious or Italian or intelligent (I am neither.) to understand this film. Yet I gave it time; I gave it thought. . .At the end of viewing, my popcorn was finished but the story wasn't."