Padre Pio: Miracle Man
A trio of recent Italian-language
Franciscan-themed biopics on the lives of three
saints has recently come to DVD in the
St. Francis embraced the poor and
St. Anthony aided them, working to support those cruelly locked away in
debtor’s prison, eventually even instigating local authorities to abolish the
unjust laws imprisoning men for debt. Beautifully photographed on location in
Of the other two films, both distributed by Italian import specialist NoShame, the first, St. Francis of Assisi, is a mixed effort, with a worthwhile second half depicting Francis’ ministry compensating for a flawed first half. Directed by Michele Soavi, St. Francis of Assisi tells the story of Francis’ life prior to his ministry in terms similar to other flawed St. Francis biopics, including Franco Zeffirelli’s hippie-dippy Brother Sun, Sister Moon and Liliana Cavani’s just plain bizarre Vatican-list film Francesco.
Yet starting with the scene in which Francis strips off his clothes in response to his outraged father’s bringing him before the bishop, St. Francis of Assisi charts a different course. Unlike Cavani’s Mickey Roarke, this Francis (Raoul Bova) is genuinely joyful and charismatic. He’s also devoted to the Church, the Mass and the sacraments. Though far from perfect, St. Francis of Assisi is a big improvement over most other treatments.
More consistently edifying is Padre Pio: Miracle Man, with its vivid portrait of the gruff, irascible stigmatist saint and mystic (superb Sergio Castellitto). Like many saint movies, the film approaches its subject from the point of view of a skeptical outsider, a gruff, hostile bishop who doesn’t believe in Pio’s miracles or stigmata. Told in flashback from the saint’s last hours, the film has Pio recount his own life to the bishop, first under cross-examination, then in a final confession.
From his childhood we see young Francesco Forgione already haunted by the divine and infernal sides of the spiritual world. Taking the name Pio, the saint steadfastly follows his vocation despite overt diabolical attempts to drive him from the priesthood. The contradictions of the saint’s piety, humility and irascibility are nowhere more vividly combined than in a moment when a layman, astonished by one of Pio’s frequent miracles, blurts out, “Holy Mother, he’s a demon!” Pio promptly whirls around and literally kicks the man in the rear — not because of the affront to himself, but because “You blasphemed the Holy Mother!”
Note: Order St. Anthony of Padua from Ignatius Press at ignatius.com or call (800) 651-1531.