Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Marta (Yile Vianello) has recently returned from Switzerland with her mother (Anita Caprioli) and sister. Bright-eyed and restless, Maria’s only social interaction is with the local church where she prepares for her upcoming confirmation with the town’s priest, Don Mario (Salvatore Cantalupo), and religious instructor Santa (Pasqualina Scuncia).
Rites of adolescence fully-realised in church drama.
ITALIAN FILM FESTIVAL: This is a movie about the flesh and the spirit. Both are mysterious for Marta, a 13-year-old on the cusp of adolescence. Poor, rather lonely, and tight-lipped, Marta (Yile Vianella) is a Catholic girl preparing for her confirmation (a ritual acknowledging both adulthood and an affirmation of faith). Led by the voluptuous lay/church woman Santa (Pasqualina Scuncia), Marta’s confirmation group are a gaggle of disinterested kids who do nothing to hide their boredom and bewilderment. It doesn’t help that their testaments of faith and love for God have been “translated” into faith songs containing “with-it” lyrics or the fact that Santa’s inspirational appeals have the ring of a desperate hard sell. “Seeing the Spirit is like wearing really cool sunglasses,” Santa intones at one point.
Meanwhile, Marta waits for adulthood to ‘happen’ to her; she steals a bra from her 18-year-old sister. Later, she contemplates her flat-chested naked body with mix of frustration, distaste and impatience. Amongst the few pleasures Marta enjoys is an especially close relationship with her mother, Rita (Anita Caprioli), who seems to be suffering from an unnamed disease that leaves her permanently exhausted.
Shot in what looks like available light by cinematographer Helene Louvart (Pina) the visual style of the film has been described as ‘documentary’, but that’s kind of misleading and beside the point. To be sure, Corpo Celeste has a kind of ‘you are there’ immediacy about its locations, and the performances are lived in, but writer-director Alice Rohrwacher has constructed a poetic, stylised film with the surface of ‘gritty reality’. Even the title, which translates as ‘Heavenly Body’, resonates more with the internal experience of Marta’s growth, rather than some stark, journalistic commentary on the social conditions of life amongst Italy’s poor.
Still, there’s evidence here of a filmmaker whose ambitions stretch into politics. (Although it seems that it’s always subordinated to character and the mystic.) On close analysis, Rohrwacher seems prepared to critique the Church and its players, but it’s subtle and low-key. For instance, there’s a subplot about the local priest Fr Don Mario (Salvatore Cantalupo) who chases votes for the local right wing candidate in order to further his own upward mobility in the Church. Perhaps more stinging is the way he takes no human interest in the emotional needs of his parishioners, like Santa’s loneliness and Rita’s struggles as a single mother, fighting an illness.
Marta watches all of this, and her growing awareness of the duplicity of adults (and the falseness in certain universal pieties) makes for a moving climax; what makes it especially poignant is how she is prepared to forgive as she rebels. Rohrwacher, a former documentary filmmaker, has an eye for human weakness, but she’s not aloof, or unkind, for she suggests the people here need to be believed, it keeps them going. Marta understands this. This is one of those rare pictures that create the illusion that in some way the story goes on after the final fade out. You wonder how Marta will grow, and you hope.
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