Friday, June 16, 2023

Padre Pio: Shia LaBeouf Internal Transformation

By José Alberto Hermosillo

Profoundly inspirational, spiritual, and controversial. “Padre Pio” is a true-to-life reenactment of a precise moment in the history of San Giovanni Rotondo, Province of Foggia, Italy, when the Franciscan Capuchin Friar Francesco Forgione, known as Padre Pio (Shia LaBeouf) arrives to the monastery - and the wounded and starving soldiers returning from the battlefield at the end of the Great War in 1920 to find only repression in their homeland.
Without being sensationalist, the film carries subtly and tastefully elements of stigmata, demonic possession, and the oppression by the “Holy See” – and most importantly, we get to see at least one of the hundred miracles attributed to Padre Pio, maintaining the proper balance between the confronting ideologies and the historical facts.

The journey of the Padre begins with a series of long mêlées with his imaginary mentor and himself, which turns into possession. In those internal fights, we can learn about Pio’s true feelings – mostly guilt for not being able to continue fighting in the war due to his precarious health.
After the war, when Italy was about to celebrate the first free election, the country was divided by hunger and greed. The Russian ideologies of Lenin and Trotsky influenced some with a certain level of education, but the social revolution was not part of the Italian reality. The socialist convinced the starving soldiers, farmers, and their families to join their party. In contrast, the wealthy landlords, political incumbents, and fascist tyrants felt threatened by the rebellious people. They wanted to continue in power and protect their lands and their old ideologies.
Moving forward, “Padre Pio” is a theoretical movie about faith and the paradox of people’s destinies. 

The recollection of the happenings surrounding the figure of Pio is purely observational, not inquisitive – the film does not question faith, socialism, or anarchy; on the contrary, the film touches those three compelling storylines superbly without inclining the balance to one side nor the other. However, the movie straightforwardly unfolds religious, political, and ideological warfare.

In the film, as in present times, worshippers are not inspired by faith. They follow the man, flesh, and human. Remember the words of Jesus, “You will work until you become dust.”

According to Pio, he was born four times. The first was from his mother. The second was when he received baptism. The third, when he answered the call to belong to the Franciscan order. The fourth was when the Lord went to visit him.

Shia LaBeouf's performance is impeccable and insightful. After moving away from acting in big Hollywood blockbusters, such as “Transformers,” “Indiana Jones,” “Distubia,” and “Lawless,” he became an actor who likes to take risks in writing, performing, and producing independent films. One clear example of his decisions was participating in his semi-autobiographical child-actor drama “Honey Boy.” However, participating in other edgy films such as “Pieces of a Woman” and the Latinx gangster flick “The Tax Collector” made fans respect the actor, who is now playing more serious roles.

The mastery and simi-slow style of the film input by veteran American independent director Abel Ferrara (“Bad Lieutenant,” “The Funeral,” “The Addiction”) gives an artistic look to this collection of stories within the story. Mr. Ferrara now directs and produces European films like “The Projectionist” in Greece. “Tommaso,” “Plaza Vittorio,” and “Pasolini” in Italy.
According to the director, “Padre Pio” is a spiritual journey of one of the most venerated Italian Saints in history, parallel with the personal transformation of its lead, Shia LaBeouf.
The American actor moved away from earthly things to prepare for the role before departing to Italy. Mr. LaBeouf lived in his truck for weeks with no cell phone or other communication devices, and, more importantly, he spent a few months living in a monastery in California, where he assimilated Jesus’ doctrine to get into the character properly and convert his Judaism to Catholicism in real life.
Marco Leonardi as Gerardo in "Padre Pio."

It is worth highlighting the participation of the excellent supporting cast, including Marco Leonardi (“Cinema Paradiso,” “Like Water for Chocolate,” “Once Upon a Time in Mexico). There is a brief participation of Asia Argento playing the “Tall Man” and Stella Mastrantonio (“Romanzo Radicale,” “The Italian Recipe”). 

Salvatore Ruocco is Vincenzo in "Padre PIO."

Salvatore Ruocco is a true revelation portraying Vincenzo, a decorated war hero caught in the middle of the conflicting forces. The talented Italian actor will soon be seen next to Denzel Washington in “The Equalizer 3.”
“Padre Pio” cannot escape the controversy by avoiding making a full biopic of the life of the polemic Italian priest, including the miracles he was attributed to, the hospital he built, the thousands who followed, his sermons in his masses, and the suffering, in numerous times, of the Vatican prosecution.
The German-Italian co-production in English lingo unfolds an immense lack of sentimentality in a disjoined structure, making the three storylines easy to relate to our days.

Without pretensions, “Padre Pio” is an intimate movie of intrinsic beauty. The cinematography by Alessandro Abate (“Martin Eden,” Certified Copy.”) is awe-inspiring and complacent.
The austerity of the film, premiering at the Venice Film Festival in 2022, is comparable to other religious and social works such as Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to St. Matthew/Il vangelo secondo Matteo.” “The Star Maker” by Giuseppe Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso”). Furthermore, connecting with a similar human struggle is “Canoa: A Shameful Memory,” a true story based on the lynching of Mexico City’s students in the small town of Canoa in Puebla. Finally, the 1985 Oscar-nominated Mexican production, “Letters from Marucia,” presented a group of struggling Chilean miners who wanted to create a Union and, by doing so, were crushed by the authorities of the Sud-American country.
“Padre Pio” does not pretend to preach religion but can be considered a mirror of our present times. However, for some, the notorious absence of God throughout the film can be viewed as an announcement of the arrival of the Antichrist. 
“Padre Pio” questions the true meaning of the faith placed in the beloved Italian Saint and displays graphically what happened at the square of San Giovani Rotondo. The film is extraordinary and far from being a “Hallmark movie,” but what they want to believe is up to everybody.


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