Directed by: Alice Rohrwacher
Written by: Alice Rohrwacher
Starring: Salvatore Cantalupo, Anita Caprioli, Renato Carpentieri, Paola Lavini
Growing up with the forced belief in one religion may allow young kids to simply believe everything put before them about the doctrines and the people. This blind faith can only last so long because, as we mature, we begin to question everything we’ve taken for granted in our lives. No matter how perfect the religious figures we worship may be, we can never escape the imperfection of humanity, which the young protagonist of Corpo Celeste learns.
Preparing for the sacrament of confirmation, Marta (Yle Vianello) moves back to Italy after several years of living in Switzerland. Despite her efforts to reacclimate to the Italian culture, she struggles in feeling like an outsider, which does not get better when she realizes the trouble of the church around her not being the pure institution she once thought it to be.
The purity in the eyes of Marta assists in telling this story because she sees everything for what it truly stands for. She does not have some jaded perspective on things due to life experience, nor does her mind have other things to help intentionally filter out ideas her mind does not want to accept. Everything seen through the perspective of Marta simply presents itself in the way we should all see it. This makes the honesty of children so piercing, as they do not care for the social norms in how to speak nor do they think of the larger picture. Marta sees herself in a world where the adults around her form expectations and also conform to the world and society at large. In her particular town, one thing you do not question is the Catholic Church, which she does not through an intentional critical eye, but rather the innocent yearning of understanding from a child.
This makes the story such an eye-opening experience, as it brings us back to our childhood but it takes away the nostalgic filter we may have for those memories. Yes, when trying to teach the love of God to children, some ways of teaching were abusive. How many times do you hear people joke about attending Catholic school and getting slammed by a ruler from the hands of a nun? A practice once commonly done by people supposedly trying to teach about the commandments to children in such formative years. Nothing about this practice should be heralded as endearing, and Marta’s experience becomes critical to seeing this for its reality.
Similarly, for all the talk about being shepherds for the people, Marta learns about the flaws and mortality of priests. Children growing up in the Catholic faith are told to always trust priests because they receive ordination from God to carry out his word. This gives them ultimately an unchecked level of power, which made it no surprise that sex scandals brewed from it but Corpo Celeste demonstrates a more political and financial abuse of power from the hands of a priest. Wheels do not keep turning in churches simply due to donations from the congregation, and this film shows the level of power these priests have in these towns and the advantageous ways they intend to utilize it.
The moral of this story works so well because of its relatability. If not in religious contexts, this story ultimately shows the blinders put on children to simply accept things for what they are in life. Rightfully, children do not receive all of the context when given different instructions to do things because of what they can process. However, eventually, things become clearer as children grow up and the once-complicated ideas become understandable and we learn about the flaws of these institutions we’ve been taught to never question. Utilizing the Catholic Church for this story uses probably the biggest of these manipulative systems where children only get shown the butterflies when there’s true darkness not too far from the surface.
As a feature directorial debut, Alice Rohrwacher delivers some stunning work in this film. She takes on such a large institution with this work and expertly does it through the perspective of a child. The story feels personal in a sense because of the intimacy of this character and the impressive performance by the young Yle Vianello. Rohrwacher pierces through the nonsense the Catholic Church pedals, particularly to young women. As a faith that almost purposefully blames women as descendants of Eve, it’s evident why some of them feel alienated even in a community that speaks on trying to save others. The conflicting messages can cause damage and Rohrwacher shows the impact on young Marta. She has such a talent behind the camera and each of her works brings something distinct.
As scathing as it is touching, Corpo Celeste puts forth a strong coming of age story where the protagonist learns about herself along with the institutions around her. Nothing gets wrapped in a bow and it remains contemplative for much of its story, but its effectiveness cannot be denied. A truly wonderful work by one of my favorite Italian directors working today in the way she blends story and character.