(director/writer: Abel Ferrara; screenwriter: Maurizio Braucci; cinematographer: Alessandro; editor: Karin Scuderi; music: Joe Delia; cast: Shia LaBeouf (Padre Pio), Cristina Chiriac (Giovanni), Marco Leonardi (Gerardo), Salvatore Ruocco (Vincenzo), Asia Argento (Tall Man), Luca Lionello (Silvestro), Vincenzo Crea (Luigi); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Diana Phillips/Philip Kreutzer; Gravitas Ventures; 2022-Germany/Italy/UK/USA-in Italian & English, English subtitles when necessary)

“A clunky, strange and austere biopic on the Italian priest Padre Pio.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Bronx-born now living for a long time in Rome indie filmmaker Abel Ferrara (“King of New York”/”Bad Lieutenant”), who has recovered from his substance abuse problem, directs and co-writes with Maurizio Braucci a clunky, strange and austere biopic on the devout Italian priest Padre Pio (Shia LaBeouf, also has recovered from his substance abuse problem), a Franciscan friar, who the Vatican declared a saint in May 1999 (he was born in 1887 and died in 1968).

It follows the young impoverished priest, who at the end of WW I stayed at a remote monastery in southern Italy, as he wrestled with his spirituality and fight with his inner demons. As the Italian soldiers return to their hometown of San Giovani, where the monastery is, after the Great War, the radicalized anti-war soldiers like Luigi (Vincenzo Crea) speak out in public, at the town square, and tell how the poor do the fighting while only the rich benefit from the unnecessary war.

During that frenzied period, the priest remains loyal to the Catholic Church and God (some believe he also supported the fascist Mussolini). But he helps the masses by healing them from their diseases, persecutions from church officials and flack from religious skeptics. Word of his accomplishments reach across the country, as he became one of his country’s most beloved priests in a country with the growing extremist factions of communists and fascists.

Ferrara uses unique interior scenes that are filmed in candlelight that glows red. He tries to capture the troubling politics of the times by showing how much class warfare had arisen after the war. But the locals, who spoke no English, were used in supporting roles and their inability to speak English in an English-based film was damaging.

The continuous voiceover by Pio targets his concerns of how he fits into such an emotionally charged and changing society, where fascism rose to power after WW I.

It’s an unsettling biopic Ferrara can never get a handle on what he’s trying to say or in which direction to go, that I think he would have fared better making it a documentary.
It played at the Venice Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 5/11/2023  GRADE: C+