This week’s DVD release of Maria Goretti is the latest fine addition to Ignatius Press’ lineup of well-done imported Italian biopics of saints. Premiered on Italian television in 2003, Maria Goretti is at once dramatically effective, devoutly pious and responsible with the historical facts.
After a dramatic opening sequence depicting the arrest of Maria’s killer Alessandro Serenelli (Fabrizio Bucci) and the evacuation of Maria (Martina Pinto) to the nearest hospital, the film relates the story of Maria’s life in flashback in the memory of the earnest young priest Padre Basilio (Flavio Insinna).
As seen in the film, Maria is cheerful, devout and hard-working, happily blessed (unlike so many other young saints, alas) with pious and loving parents. In one bright exchange, the illiterate Maria shrewdly butts heads with a local shopkeeper who claims that the price of flour has gone up, and she won’t be taken advantage of.
At the same time, Maria is depicted very much as a child, not a miniature sage or spiritual prodigy. The film wisely refrains from putting overly exalted lines or subtle insights on Maria’s lips; an early encounter with Padre Basilio makes an impression on the priest, but there is no doctors-in-the-temple scene with Maria silencing everyone with her wisdom.
As wholesome as Maria’s family life is, her environment, the region of the Pontine swamps, is seen a breeding ground for various kinds of unhealthiness. The malaria that claims many of the impoverished tenant families who work the land by arrangement with the wealthy landowners. The greed and indifference of the local landlord, Count Mazzoleni, who refuses to pony up for the quinine that could save his tenants’ lives. Perhaps worst of all, the hatred and bitterness of the tenants, which threatens to erupt in violence against one another as much as their oppressor.
The screenplay effectively juxtaposes the moral issues of Maria’s time and place with Maria’s own circumstances and concerns. Hatred, Maria comes to understand, is like the malaria that festers in the swamps; it is a sickness of the soul, and as insidious and destructive.
The film upholds social justice concerns within the context of Catholic teaching. When Padre Basilio confronts Mazzoleni over his mistreatment of the peasants, the count sniffs, “Just what we need — another socialist priest.” Not so, protests the priest; he was only quoting the encyclical Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII. “I have no time to keep up with the Pope’s moods,” snaps the count.
A closing title announces that Maria was canonized in 1950, though it does not mention that both her repentant murderer and her mother, who forgave the killer after his release from prison, were present at the canonization.
Restrained but frank sexual menace and assault as well as a stabbing; death of a family member. Teens and up.