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May 24, 2006

Padre Pio


Carlo Carlei - 2000
NoShame Films Region 0 DVD

Padre Pio is one of two Italian mini-series about saints to be made available in the U.S. by NoShame this month. The film is the first work by Carlo Carlei since Fluke came and went in 1995. I have not seen that film, but I have previously seen Flight of the Innocent, the film that established Carlei's reputation as a promising filmmaker.

Padre Pio is best in the scenes when Carlei is showing the lives of the poor farmers of rural Italy. Like in Flight of the Innocent, Carlei's visual strength is with pastoral lyricism, gravity defying crane shots sweeping over the countryside. There is a sweetness to the scenes with Sergio Castellitto, especially in the first half of the film, as a young, self-effacing friar, such as in the above still.

The structure of the film is challenging at almost three and a half hours. Castellitto, an old man near death in 1968, is interviewed by a priest portrayed by Jurgen Prochnow. The visiting priest, who has no name, also wants to disprove Padre Pio's miracles as well as the stigmata Pio previously manifested and has kept hidden. Pio's own reaction to having the same stigmata as Jesus is one of shame, forcing him to question himself. The film alternates between scenes of Castellitto and Prochnow, with long flashbacks of Pio's life from boyhood at the end of the 19th Century until the time his health ultimately fails. More problematic for myself was Pio's conflict with evil. While there are no horned devils, Carlei shows Pio fighting voices of temptation, spontaneous eruptions of flames, a seemingly possessed young woman and a some barely identifiable entity in the confession booth. While this is not quite as literal as in a film like The Exorcist, such scenes are dependent on the viewer having the same kind of sense of faith to be effective. While films about religion or persons are usually directed towards an audience that shares similar beliefs, the most interesting films usually are those that can convey some kind of universality that can be appreciated by a larger audience. For one who may not share specific theoligical beliefs, aspects concerning Padre Pio's sainthood may be of limited interest. Where Carlo Carlei succeeds is in conveying the humanity of Pio and the sense of joy in a sometimes hostile environment.

Posted by peter at May 24, 2006 01:55 PM