Sunday, August 05, 2007


NOT OF THIS WORLD ("Fuoiri Dal Mondo" 1999, Italy, Giuseppe Piccioni, screenplay with Gualtiero Rosella & Lucia Zei)
Sometimes I think at night, "Give me another chance, I'll be better. With my friends, at work, with the woman I love." These are my prayers, but they are never granted.

"A nun and a dry-cleaner find this baby..." It sounds like the set-up for a bad joke: it's not. Sure there's a light touch, and Silvio Orlandos in particular delivers scenes of warm comic genius. But the opening minutes of this undiscovered gem serve notice that there's much more going on here.

Novitiate voices recite the Hail Mary ("Blessed is the fruit of your womb") as the camera explores... What? Extreme close-up of heavy texture, deep blue, there's a button... And the moment we recognize it as a sweater, we cut to the Mother Superior speaking of the call to be a nun: "Your habit will be the sign of your choice, and of your nearness to God... You shouldn't please with clothes but with your behaviour, who you truly are." Then a man's voice takes up the narration, matching hers, tone for tone; "The linen must be dry, not damp... Be careful with shirts with cuffs. With silk, use a cool iron, dampen and steam... You have to take care of things if you want to work here." We're no longer in the convent but in a laundry: our initiation is into the vocation of cleansing clothes, not souls.

It's all there from the outset. The droll humour of juxtaposition. A way of story-telling that doesn't spell things out, but trusts us to make the connections, figure out contexts. Images of clothing and fabric that can hide or reveal your true nature. Motherhood, divinity, purity. Questions of work, divine calling, human choice. Being in the world, or separate from it.

And soon we meet that sweater again. It is thrust into Sister Catarina's arms by a jogger in the park. Inside, a newborn baby. Typical of the film's gentle quirkiness, the man who found it can't take the baby to the authorities – he's supposed to be under house arrest. He jogs away, smoking a cigarette. And for all her assertions to the contrary, the ever-so-small questions begin for Catarina, with less than a year before she takes her perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience: what if she were to choose another life?

This is a layered, understated film, infinitely likeable and filled with quiet, telling ironies. Highly recommended, particularly for fans of movies like The Man Without A Past or Italian For Beginners.

Available at Videomatica

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