In Memory of Myself



BERLIN -- Saverio Costanzo won Italy's David award as best new director in 2005 for "Private," in which he looked at the conflict between Israel and Palestine. For his second film, "In Memory of Myself," the Italian filmmaker stays closer to home with a somber study of what makes young men become Catholic priests.

Handsomely shot on location at the spectacular former monastery San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, the film follows one young man, Andrea (Christo Jivkov), as he enters the novitiate for a period of rigorous examinations of character and conscience. As the Father Superior (Andre Hennicke) says, the novices are there to test the order, but the order also will test the novices.

Reverently filmed at a stately pace, the story hinges on whether Andrea, who has been very successful in the material world (although we are told nothing of it) will find the solace and reward he is seeking in the spiritual environs of the church.

With its very narrow focus, there is not the slightest glance at any of the controversies that embroil the Catholic Church around the world. Costanzo is concerned purely with what Andrea would call his soul.

Mamas whose babies grow up to the priesthood will be reassured by the process depicted and by the strict but kindly men who govern the novices. Those of a more secular bent will find the proceedings inexplicable and a bit worrying.

The difficulty that Costanzo faces in the film's structure is that all of the drama goes on in Andrea's head, and we see a lot of him strolling the massive halls at night, looking quizzical about the other novices behind their locked doors.

Silence is an issue, too, as it appears to be part of the general discipline except when the audience needs a bit of exposition, at which point somebody explains to Andrea what's going on.

It becomes evident that one of the novices has decided to abandon the novitiate and, through dark corners and spooky music, Costanzo conjures up a little tension, but little comes of it. There is a puzzling scene in which the other novices are invited to offer criticisms of Andre and he is denounced as being vain, arrogant, distant, cold, curious and indiscreet. How they intuited this remains a mystery.

When another novice, Zanna (Filippo Timi) declares that he also plans to leave, Andrea decides that he's had enough too. But as the time nears, and the fathers present their theological case in more detail, it only remains to be seen if either Andrea or Zanna -- or both of them -- will decide to leave or stay. By that time, only the very devout will care.

Medusa Film and Offside
Screenwriter-director: Saverio Costanzo
Producer: Mario Gianani
Director of photography: Mario Amura
Production designer: Maurizio Leonardi
Costume designer: Antonella Cannarozzi
Editor: Francesca Calvelli
Music: Alter Ego
Andrea: Christo Jivkov
Zanna: Filippo Timi
Father Master: Marco Baliani
Father Superior: Andre Hennicke
Panella: Fausto Russo Alesi
Running time -- 118 minutes
No MPAA rating