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L'ora di religione is not a beautiful movie in any sense of the word. It is dark, the shadows and lights of Rome are matched by the moody vision of the director. Bellocchio plays with images Fellini style, but doesn't focus so much on the caricature in 8 & 1/2 style, but tries to convey the ambiguity of contemporary religious life. It's the ambiguity of modernity; cell phones versus pictures of the saints, the feared "immaginette" Italian kids grew up with. Nothing can change, but so much has changed. Bellocchio's movie style is ripe with symbols: a fat Jesus crosses the road with a plastic cross. Priests in the Vatican force african kids to climb stairs on their knees: the church is portrayed to exploit the same old mother load: the poor, the weak, the ignorant, the child. At some point Ernesto, the main character masterfully played by Castellitto finds himself involved in an incongruous duel with a symbol of a past so remote it appears comical: he loses the duel instantly as the swords cross. Nothing can change. Yet we can maybe hope to keep our identity, and even if god's pervasive presence deprives us of freedom, as Ernesto's son is taught, falling in love, shouting a blasphemous curse can be an act of individuality. Or maybe not.
Ernesto Picciafuoco is a painter and illustrator of children's books,
separated from his wife and father of the boy Leonardo, to whom he is very
close. One day he receives a visit from the mysterious Don Pugni who
informs him that the church has for the past three years been considering
the canonisation his mother, who was murdered by his mentally unstable
brother many years before. He is profoundly shocked by this news, not
merely because he has been kept in the dark by his family, but also because
it contrasts violently with his bohemian lifestyle as an artist, free man
and an atheist. The memory of his mother forces him to come to terms with
the past and also to change the way he thinks about his present
Trapped between the church on the one hand, which is determined to establish the truth of his mother's alleged martyrdom, and his brothers on the other, each in one way or another defeated by life and determined to re-establish the lost honour and respectability of the family, Ernesto presents them with his only mode of defence: his own mother's ironic and detached smile, the smile of a woman he has always considered "passive, simply stupid, and even a little cold". He is constantly on the move, thrown between family get-togethers, an interview with the cardinal Don Piumini, an illogical and anachronistic duel at sunrise with the eccentric Count Bulla to whom honour is everything (and once again it is his mother's wry smile that betrays Ernesto's true feelings), and a meeting with a mysterious and beautiful young woman who may or may not be his son's R.E. teacher; a woman to whom the door to his atelier is curiously always open.
Initially, I was worried that I wouldn't understand the issues dealt with in the film, as they are specifically Italian in nature. Thus the "vittoriano" monument in Rome, detested by the vast majority of the Italian population is a recurrent symbol in the film, as is obviously the theme of sanctification and the papacy as a whole, coupled with the debate about the fascist past and the royal family (in exile since the end of the Second World War). However, I loved the film, because it is not truly about these specific aspects of Italian culture and society; rather it uses these to probe deeper into the human psyche. Obviously the theme of religion plays an important role (incidentally, I don't at all agree with the English translation of the title, the Religion Hour, which means nothing: it should much rather have been translated as "Religious Education" or something of the sort, in order even to come close to the Italian double sense of Leonardo's class at school as well as his father Ernesto's sudden obligation to confront the issue), but it is not about the Catholic religion as such, but rather a more personal faith. In Ernesto's case, this faith turns out not to be in God, but in the love of a woman.
It is to a large extent a very strange film (Bellocchio himself has described it as a "very bizarre detective story"). The duel with Count Bulla, Ernesto's threefold betrayal by his mother's smile (the subtitle of the film), and the unexplained significance of the "vittoriano" monument are all very difficult to understand, but this impact of the film in undeniable, and although any concrete message that the film might be trying to deliver remains opaque, the ultimate point is for the individual viewer to extract some personal significance from the film and to think about some of the themes presented -- I went to see the film in the evening and spent the entire following day thinking about it; how often can you claim that about a film?
The strong performances by the cast and the interesting array of characters coupled with the dreamlike and at times surreal images make for a beautiful, at times magical (such as the wonderful scene at the end when Ernesto chases Diana around his flat), and always intriguing. Beautiful: 10/10
Interesting, hard to categorize (not a tragedy, not a comedy, maybe somewhat of a satire?) movie about a son who's mother (assumed to be anything BUT saintly) is being recommended for Sainthood. Movie seems to believe that the Catholic church hasn't done a very good job of assessing her qualifications....and given the current problems the Catholic Church is facing in America....it's quite believable. The tone is pretty somber; some of the plot is confusing at times, and I wondered if there was supposed to be a "higher meaning" than the action on screen? But even though there seemed to be lots of loose ends, it made me think....though no conclusions could be drawn. Part of the Chicago International Film Festival....fits that genre well.
A divorced atheist painter, removed from his family, comes to find out
they are quietly plotting with the Church to have his mother canonized
as a saint mostly for personal gain and prestige - even though
there's great question as to how much the 'official' version of his
mother's life has been distorted and re-invented to help the cause.
There's something chilling, in a moody, David Lynch, Nic Roeg sort of way about the handling of this nightmare scenario (the director calls it 'a very strange thriller'), where a man is pressured to accept his clearly flawed, cold, and distant mother as a saint 'for the good of the family'.
But along with it's skewering of people using religion to very non-religious ends, there's also the pain and confusion of a man without faith grasping to make sense of life, parenthood, and love.
There are some plot lines that lead nowhere, just leading to more questions. Some of it gets a little Gothic, to the edge of silly, but the performances, music and camera-work keep pulling you back in, and haunting moments have stayed with me.
I really enjoyed this film. I think that Sergio Castellitto was brilliant. He is one of my favorite actors and he did not disappoint me at all in this film. I recommend that you rent it if you are in the mood for a very interesting story and great acting. Yes, it was one of those films where you interpret the ending, but so much the better. I like to think after a film and not be fed any formulaic plot-- which this film did not follow at all. I hope Sergio Castellitto continues to get cast in these great roles. I loved him in "Ne Quittez Pas" too! Oh, it's too bad that these films don't get released in America though! Euros can get kind of pricey!
Marco Bellocchio is a voice in the Italian cinema that has been present
for about four decades now; he is still going strong. Like a good wine,
Mr. Bellocchio gets better with the passage of time. His latest film to
get a commercial run is "Ora di religione". This is a complex movie
worth taking a look at it, as it presents us a different input on how
the director, who also wrote the screen play, views religion, and the
Catholic Church in general.
Italy is a supposedly Catholic country. Like the rest of Europe, Italy is going through a change in the way the Catholic Church exerts its influences in everything. More and more, people are asking about what they were taught as children and the realities of modern life where science explains mysteries that were not questioned before.
If you haven't seen the film, perhaps you should stop reading here.
Mr. Bellocchio decides to take a look at the issue of sainthood and its ramifications, as it affects a bourgeois family in turmoil. The Picciafuoccos come from a family of five sons. Egido, has killed his mother, who is being considered for canonization because someone claims he has been cured of a horrible fatal disease by praying to the matriarch of the family.
At the center of the story we find Ernesto, the artist son. He becomes concerned when Irene, his estranged wife, tells him about a change in their young son, Leonardo. This boy has become obsessed with the dogma being taught to him in his school. In his young mind, Leonardo can't differentiate between reality and what he has learned. Thus, he feels about talking to God, because he's everywhere.
Ernesto learns about the possibility of his mother being declared a saint by a cardinal who wants to interview the family and clarify an aspect of her death. The machinery has been set in motion. Ernesto realizes with horror how the family is affected by the news. Ernesto gets to realize what each brother, as well as his aunts, stand to benefit when his late mother be declared officially a saint. The wheels of commercialism have been set in motion and they will not stop the personal ambitions from each one in the family.
In Sergio Castellitto, the director has found the perfect actor to play Ernesto. Mr. Castellitto has demonstrated he is one of the best actors of the moment, as well as an excellent director. He gives an amazing performance as Ernesto, the son that questions his family's motives as well as what he sees in that society.
The ensemble cast is wonderful. The film is dark. It kept reminding this viewer of some of the best films of the Italian classic cinema without imitating any style at all. Mr. Bellocchio is an original who has his own voice. He questions a lot of things that most of us have taken for granted, but are unresolved in the prodigious mind of Marco Bellocchio.
I can only say that in the poor Italian cinema scenario, a film like this
one from Marco Bellocchio definitely has an important role.
Nothing to do with the best Bellocchio's filmography but considering how difficult is to treat this argument in a very politicized Vatican environment, this film gives you at least some good arguments to think about.
Sergio Castellitto gives his best, his acting is well according to what you would have expected from his character. The film at the end is a bit unconcluded but worth surely its view.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Marco Bellocchio is brave thinker and a fine writer who is unafraid to
take on controversial subjects concerning Catholicism in the country
where the Vatican watches everything very carefully. His work has been
labeled 'blasphemous' but it seems Bellocchio is more interested in
stirring the thoughts of his viewers than in defaming religion. MY
MOTHER'S SMILE, (Il sorriso di mia madre) or 'Ora di religione' (The
Religion Hour)as it is also known in Italy, is a sophisticated look at
family, personal spiritual concepts, and honesty in a setting of
peculiar circumstances that make for a uniquely fascinating film.
Painter Ernesto Picciafuocco's (Sergio Castellitto) is an atheist, separated from his wife Irene (Jacqueline Lustig) who has custody of his son. His son Leonardo (Alberto Mondini) has, for reasons unknown to Ernesto, become interested in religion and Irene informs Ernesto when he comes to pick up the child that he has been heard speaking to God. What follows this disclosure is a father/son sensitive discussion about Ernesto's atheism and his son's need to believe in an afterlife and a God. Disturbed by his son's state of mind, Ernesto is further challenged by a visit from a Vatican priest who informs Ernesto that his mother is about to be canonized! Ernesto is apparently the last to learn of this turn in family events (being an atheist) and discovers the family is pushing to have the canonization hurried in order to raise their status (and money) in Italy's social realm. Ernesto cannot comprehend why his mother should be made a saint as she has been less of a mother than most: her candidacy is based on the fact that as she was murdered by her own son Egidio (Donato Placido) she forgave him, making her a martyr. And apparently a family friend Filippo Argenti (Gianni Schicchi) prayed to the mother and was healed, making her a miracle worker! The family and the church need Ernesto's witness to the incidents for the canonization to be complete and it is here that the conflicts rise to the boiling point with a duel, a physical affair with a religion teacher, and confrontations between Ernesto and his brother Egidio and his family and the warriors of the church. Ernesto's liberal bent marks his journey of self-investigation that explores his morality and honesty by means of his art as he physically alters significant edifices of the old order of Rome into the deconstructed fantasies of his paintings.
Bellocchio frames his complex story with magnificent photography and a cast of actors who are not only credible in their roles but also create a sense of reality versus surrealism. Sergio Castellitto is brilliant as the tortured artist who must make a decision between his family's needs and his own belief system. The music that accompanies this film is composed by Riccardo Giagni who extrapolates curious but excellent excerpts from John Adams' "Harmonielehre", Vinicio Capossela's "Che cossè l'amor" from "Camera a sud", Gia Kancheli's "Psalm 23" from 'Exil', Aaron Jay Kernis's "Musica Celestis", and John Tavener's "... Depart in Peace" and "Tears of the Angels" - one of the more sophisticated musical scores on record.
MY MOTHER'S SMILE requires a lot from the viewer: to stay abreast with the many characters and to follow the maze of interactions takes a lot of concentration. But the overall effect of the film is one of great beauty and significant philosophical importance. Worth repeated viewings and highly recommended. In Italian with English subtitles. Grady Harp
"My Mother's Smile (L'Ora di religione: Il sorriso di mia madre)" is a
rollicking take on Catholicism that's very like how "I Heart Huckabees"
treated existentialism, but with even more Tom Robbins-like absurdist
Almost Kafka-like, with a touch of Woody Allen, the central character is the straight man in the joke, particularly with Sergio Castellitto's hang dog look (he was the Italian lover in "Mostly Martha") as he wakes up one morning to discover that his mother is about to be declared a saint.
We see the impact of this hypocritical quest on his ex-wife, brothers, old friends, aunts, priests and other people he has to come in contact with over two days, as everyone has selfish reasons for promoting sainthood. The potential canonization also becomes a vehicle to examine violence, sin, madness, ambition, love, parent/child relationships, philosophy, and art, as the central figure is an artist and the titular expression is captured in a Mona Lisa-like portrait.
The satire goes a bit overboard, though, when the son is challenged to a duel at dawn, though I think there was some point about the pointlessness of archaic societal rules. Small characters are weighted with too many meanings, like a crazy architect seeking to blow up a national monument that figures in a souvenir photograph, a witness whose name is a pseudonym from Dante, a mysterious, beautiful religion teacher, and more symbolism that went by, particularly as this is one of those typical Italian movies where the subtitles seem abridgments of the conversations.
In a lovely twist on the pieta, the most moving scenes are the paternal ones between father and son.
The soundtrack includes beautiful contemporary classical religious music including Adams and Tavener.
This is an interesting film which purports to show how candidates for
sainthood are chosen and how related parties can have an influence. A
woman is being considered for sainthood, but her son thinks of her as
anything but a saint and is surprised that so many people want to make
her a saint. It is because most of them have something to gain from it.
Some of her relatives want her to be a saint because being a relative
of a saint can have personal benefits.
The only fault I noticed is that the English subtitles could have been clearer - often the subtitles are shown a light background making it hard to read although I was able to read enough to get an idea of what the picture was about.
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