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Don Bosco: father and teacher of the young vividly portrayed
In January I discovered that the DVD version of "Don Bosco" was soon to be released coming in English. I had seen the made-for-TV film in Italian. It aired as a mini-series in September 2004. The Italian version is absolutely excellent. I have the copy in Italian which I purchased last year while living in Rome, and have brought that copy with me, but I had been waiting to hear if the film would come out in English (since it was actually filmed in English). Today (2 April 2007) I received the English version from Ignatius Press and watched it immediately.
Well, first the bad news. The English-version lacks the quality of the original. The dubbing is well done, but there are some major errors in pronunciation. For instance, even though everyone knows this saint as "Don Bosco", the English version calls him "Father Bosco". That is strange, especially since all the names of the characters remain in Italian (Giovanni, Michele, Domenico, etc.). But, fine, it is a minor irritation and I could live with that. What really is strange, however, is that the voices in the English soundtrack consistently mispronounce the name of the religious movement and congregation that he founded, the Salesians. Who worked with English-speaking actors? The Salesians are the second largest order in the Catholic Church: you think that someone from sound stage might have been able to find a Salesian to consult so that they could get the names and terminology correct!
All right, that's the bad news. As for the movie itself, it is very good news. Now what I write now is based on the original version because, happily, there is both an English and an Italian track, and so you can view the film in either language, and you can activate the subtitles in English or Spanish. It is funny that the translation of the text of the English subtitles is very different from the English soundtrack but that is fine. This written text is actually closer to the Italian, as are the Spanish subtitles. If you like the sound of Italian, watch the film with Italian sound and English subtitles, and you may enjoy it more.
Like I say, the Italian version is excellent, excellent. It is far better than the 1988 movie of Don Bosco produced by the RAI.
Flavio Insinna does an exceptional job in his portrayal of Don Bosco. He brings the saint to life. The young people who portray Don Bosco's boys are believable too. For those who know Don Bosco's story, the young people who historically played an integral role in developing his educational and social outreach all appear: Michele Rua (Daniel Tschirley), Giovanni Cagliero (Ry Finerty), Giuseppe Buzzetti (Jonathan Ross Latham). These figures are all portrayed in ways that mirror what we know of their actual characters as kids (each went on to do great things as adults in the Salesian cause). There are also some characters of boys that sum up troubled youth: "Bruno" is a character of this type, and done with exceptional delicacy.
A highlight of the second half of the mini-series is the appearance of Domenico Savio (St Dominic Savio: 1842-1857). In the film, Savio (Lewis Crutch) interacts significantly with Don Bosco and the other (older) boys, asking the kind of questions that grounds them in their present duties with an eye towards their eternal destiny. Young Crutch's portrayal of the boy-saint Savio is true to character and pivotal to the story. Meanwhile Lina Sastri shows great versatility in playing Don Bosco's mother, the well-loved Mamma Margaret, both as a young widow on her farm and as the wise grandmother caring for an ever-growing household of orphans. These portrayals are true to life and true to the style and spirit of Don Bosco's life and work. Nor does the film neglect the controversial issues: the Archbishop of Turin's attempts to curtail the Salesian work, and the antagonism of the Italian government. Again, in the midst of the conflict that makes for drama, we see the growth of character and the depth of idealism that never left Don Bosco, but helped him to become a father and teacher to the young.
Finally, let me say that I found Lodovico Gasparini's "Don Bosco" not only excellent but totally moving. Normally I am very critical of attempts to portray religious figures in the popular media, but this film gives us a Don Bosco who really belongs to young people in need and to all those who dedicate themselves to the young.
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