Abel Ferrara believes in a Padre Pio artist and poet. For him it is “Like Pasolini”he tells at the Giornate degli Autori in the Venetian setting of the 79th edition of the Venice Film Festival. The saint’s lyricism is the cause of a problematic imperfection. Father Pio is an interrupted poem, deteriorated by the courtly intentions and severely tested by the form. The image is continuous uncertainty: first the chiaroscuro of the Saint, then the flickering of the exterior, where the camera changes demolish the likelihood of the shots. Likewise the protagonists. A fray of interactions that excludes Padre Pio, isolated in his suffering and involved in a convulsive rebirth.
Shia LeBouf plays it with sincere passion. Helping is the actor’s recent conversion, which instills human transport in the performance. He screams, shouts, weeps: the saint’s suffering is in his body, shot from behind while he prays against the wall. It is a separate film, a short insert in a story that tells something else but takes advantage of its proximity. The title is improper and misleading, of a poetic but not substantial nature. Padre Pio is a reverse shot, an ideal support for an event that really happened. We are in San Giovanni Rotondo in 1919. The fascist ebbs want to avert the socialist rise. They are moments of violence, anticipation of the black tragedy. While Padre Pio faces the spiritual shadows, the Communists fight the Black Shirts.
The group of Italian actors is forced into linguistic forcing, with English reaching the viewer through hardship. There are many technical aspects that distract from Father Pio. The aesthetic figure turns out to be a limit in a film that catches the viewer unprepared. The life of the saint is not there, but even the historical questions are a line of characters with cheesy features.
Padre Pio ascends in the film as miraculous counterpart, the announcement of a spiritual future in which to hide hopes while waiting for a social rebirth. 13 workers and a carabiniere died in the San Giovanni Rotondo massacre. Padre Pio, in the film, does not participate in it, in any way. The passion of Abel Ferrara is substantiated in a historical adjustment: the alleged involvement with the fascist group, which has long been questioned, is no longer there. Padre Pio is relieved of any relationship with the events in the country. But spiritual closeness is not realized: Shia Labeouf is a friar enraptured by visions. Compassion and service to the poorest is a marginality, included by the viewer by cultural reflection.
The dream scenes are captivating for their intensity. Abel Ferrara weaves an affliction that we can only accept. There is a lack of a spiritual path, apparently filled by the events of the young socialists, eager for a more just world. There “Third rebirth” of Padre Pio is imposed. It happens in overlap with the massacre – in another scene that he seeks lyricism but collides with technique – alluding to a whole cohesive in spirit.
Father Pio it is a rhetorical construction, the intent arrives but it is not fulfilled. Sacred and political are welded together. The revolution falls back into the spiritual. The mystic in Ferrara always succeeds. Even in a movie like Father Pio. When Shia Lebeouf runs naked in the forest we share its human horizon. Body work is the sacred breath of the film. The flesh, an original sin of the religious canon, is the destination of the stigmata that arrive like the bullet wound inflicted by the fascists. The dark charm was perfect poetry, while the political association arrives artificial, entrusted to the correct reading of incomplete historical arches.
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Padre Pio, Abel Ferrara’s film is not what you expect