Corpo Celeste: Cannes 2011 Review

Cannes Film Festival
Realistic coming-of-age tale that tackles questions of faith in impoverished Southern Italy.

A gritty exploration of a young girl's Catholic confirmation from promising new talent Alice Rohrwacher.

CANNES -- Promising new talent Alice Rohrwacher explores a young girl’s troubled Catholic confirmation in the gritty coming-of-age dramedy, Corpo Celeste. Set in the dilapidated seaside cities of Calabria, Italy, the Italian-French-Swiss co-production should find brethren among Euro and boutique distributors following its Directors’ Fortnight bow.

Having recently returned to her native region after living in Switzerland, 13-year-old Marta [Yile Vianello] is left pretty much to her own demise while her loving but worn-out mother [Anita Caprioli] toils away at an industrial bakery. Living off frozen pizzas and wandering around neighboring junkyards, Marta’s only source of socialization is the local church, where she attends a series of catechism classes in preparation for her upcoming confirmation.

Yet the doctrines of Roman Catholicism, as they’re comically explained via cheesy pop songs and untranslated Latin, offer little in terms of life lessons or consolation for the skinny, highly introverted Marta. Rather, she soon catches on to the hypocrisy of the parish, whose priest, Don Mario [Salvatore Cantalupo], is in cahoots with a right-wing candidate, and whose instructor, Santa [Pasqualina Scuncia], uses her piety as a means to escape a miserable small-town existence.

Shot with a raw, documentary aesthetic that recalls the early work of Ken Loach and Barbara Kopple , the film begins with a ramshackle religious procession held beneath a highway overpass, and then works its way up to the confirmation ceremony, where a few tragic-comic twists become tests of faith for both Marta and Don Mario. The action does, however, suffer from some mid-section slowness, and that fact that Marta says very little throughout the movie may be trying for some viewers.

Still, writer-director Rohrwacher and cinematographer Helene Louvart [The Beaches of Agnes] show a keen eye for naturalistic detail, while the dialogue reveals the chasm separating the teachings of Christ from the lifestyles of contemporary Italians: Santa tells her students that “seeing the Spirit is like wearing really cool sunglasses,” while Marta’s devout uncle warns about eating calamari that’s “fed off the flesh of Lampedusa immigrants.”

Eventually, Martha manages to forge her very own way of the cross [for which Rohrwacher cleverly makes use of blood, a giant crucifix and other symbols], which turns out to have much less to do with God than with her own climb towards adulthood. As the title suggests, any body could be celestial, including that of a teenage girl.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival, Directors’ Fortnight
Production companies: Tempesta, JBA Productions, AMKA Films Production, Arte France Cinema, RSA Radiotelevisione svizzera, SRG SSR idee Suisse, in association with Rai Cinema, with participation of Arte France, Cineteca di Bologna
Cast: Yile Vianello, Salvatore Cantalupo, Pasqualina Scuncia, Anita Caprioli, Renato Carpentieri
Director-screenwriter: Alice Rohrwacher
Producers: Jacques Bidou, Marianne Dumoulin, Tiziana Soudani
Director of photography: Helene Louvart
Set designer: Luca Servino
Costume designer: Loredana Buscemi
Editor: Marco Spoletini
Sales Agent: Rai International Sales
No rating, 97 minutes