On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: CORPO CELESTE (Film Movement).
CORPO CELESTE (Celestial Body)
Coming home a family finds themselves outsiders...
By Cynthia Kane
I am stubborn. I refuse to give up on Italian cinema and CORPO CELESTE (celestial body) brings me new hope that it’s not only alive, but that there’s pockets of real brilliance in the country that gave us – in the past - so many cinematic geniuses.
Here not only do we have an emerging young talent, Alice Rohrwacher, but a haunting tale of youth told in a style that hearkens back to Italian neo-realism and yet feels completely contemporary and fresh. Yet, her work feels inspired by the Dardenne Brothers – understated, documentary-like, a window into an intimate world that’s both private and humanly fragile.
When thirteen year-old Marta (Yle Vianello), her older sister (Paola Lavini) and mother (Anita Caprioli) move back to the southern Italian city of Reggio Calabria from Switzerland, where they’ve spent the last ten+ years, they are strangers in their homeland. Why this family spent so much time abroad is never clear; there’s obviously no father or husband in the mix. Coming back…coming home the family is nothing if not outsiders.
Yet first-time feature director Alice Rohrwacher's CORPO CELESTE isn’t just the story of an inquisitive young girl’s coming of age. It’s also a look at what’s happened in the last years to Italy, her working-class people, the Church, how it’s failed her and a country of people devoted to Roman Catholicism.
From the opening scene, shot by hand-held camera, French cinematographer Hélène Louvart (who also shot WIm Wenders’ PINA) doesn’t capture a romantically, beautiful Italy that we all know through tourism and the movies, but a ancient town battered and rebuilt with cheap modern edifices, scarred roads and highways, waterways that look more like sewers, a city trapped by economic crisis. The church and its community center where Marta must go to the classes that will lead her to confirmation looks more like a cheap casino or a glossy cinema multiplex – a place desperate to pull in the masses instead a of temple of solace, prayer and reflection.
All the adults are dissatisfied and want escape. Rita, Marta’s mother has little time for her daughters as she works exhaustively at a bread factory, determined to get enough money together to buy the right dress for Marta’s confirmation – to help her younger daughter fit in. The parish priest, Don Mario (Salvatore Cantalupo – also seen in Matteo Garrone’s GOMORRAH) is desperate to gather enough supportive signatures, so he can transfer to another parish, get out of this claustrophobic dump. He wears the Church’s garb, which gives him power, but a power diluted in such a small and dismal environment. Santa (Pasqualina Scuncia) is the catechism teacher, middle-aged and desperate for some kind of human emotion, touch; Don Mario is the center of her sexual fantasies to absolutely no avail, but she’ll serve him dutifully in being a slave to the parish and forcing the teachings of the Catholic Church down the pre-teenage throats.
The center of the story is simple. Marta is added to the class preparing for confirmation, a tradition for children this age. She tries to be a good student, to fit in and can’t seem to find her way. Being dropped into this alien place and being in the midst of so many physical changes – she’s about 12, after all, Marta cannot help but confront the hypocrisy thick before her. She’s being forced to acquiesce to this place, not her home, but a familial place to where she “belongs”. Then, slowly she begins to take control of her own life in the only ways she can, beginning with hacking off her hair, confronting the teachings forced upon her, questioning the morality of the Church. She struggles with the regimented instruction and liturgical certainty drilled into her. When during a catechism class break, the kids find new-born kittens in a desk drawer, Santa, in disgust commands that the church janitor take them away and throw them in the river, the naturalness of any creature giving birth is dirty and unsanitary. Marta cannot bear the cruelty of their certain death, and attempts to intervene.
Thinking she’s run-away, Don Mario picks her up on the road and late for an appointment to pick up a large Crucifix from a village church, a church all but abandoned by decay, natural destruction- perhaps an earthquake? – he demands she go with him, he has no time to take her back home – he’ll be late. Here away from the city, we, along with young Marta, finally breathe and wonder at the incredible beauty of natural scenery, the highway along a wild and dramatic coast. Here Marta’s body relaxes and she begins her period for the first time; here the giant Crucifix that Don Mario knows will be his final gift to his parishioners before he leaves, loosens from its ropes and falls from the roof of his van, crashing into the sea below.
CORPO CELESTE debuted in the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes in 2011 and first screened in the U.S. at the New York Film Festival. Rohrwacher is Italian and German, one of two Florentine sisters working in cinema; Alice’s sister, Alba is an actress. An assured and affecting debut
- Cynthia Kane
Cynthia Kane reviews documentaries for On Demand Weekly. She is a writer and Sr Programming Manager for [ ITVS], overseeing the International Initiative for funding in their SF office. Prior she’s had many incarnations from actor to writer to producer. She co-created DOCday on Sundance Channel.
CORPO CELESTE (Film Movement) can be found under your cable system's On Demand section.
Read Other Reviews By Cynthia Kane:
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN - DEMAND IT
FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD - DEMAND IT
MARLEY - DEMAND IT
BLACK BUTTERFLIES - DEMAND IT
ALBAGTROSS - DEMAND IT
HOUSE OF PLEASURES - DEMAND IT
QUEEN TO PLAY - DEMAND IT