My Mother's Smile

Veteran provocateur Marco Bellocchio uses the possibility of a woman's canonization to trap her relatives in a hornet's nest of personal agendas and religious intrigue. Artist Ernesto Picciafuoco (Sergio Castellitto), a resolute atheist, is stunned when papal emissary Don Pugni (Bruno Cariello) asks him to participate in a Vatican hearing on the subject...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Veteran provocateur Marco Bellocchio uses the possibility of a woman's canonization to trap her relatives in a hornet's nest of personal agendas and religious intrigue. Artist Ernesto Picciafuoco (Sergio Castellitto), a resolute atheist, is stunned when papal emissary Don Pugni (Bruno Cariello) asks him to participate in a Vatican hearing on the subject of his mother Marta's potential sainthood. Though Ernesto's brother Eugenio, a cleric of some standing, started the process three years earlier and their Aunt Maria (Pieri Degli Esposti) has been campaigning tirelessly ever since, this is the first Ernesto has heard of it. Marta's piety has been established and a man named Filippo Argenti (Gianni Schicchi) swears he was cured of a supposedly incurable illness after praying to her. The sticking point: Marta was murdered by Ernesto's mentally ill brother, Egidio (Donato Placido), and if, as Egidio said at the time, he killed her in her sleep, Marta has no claim to sainthood. If, on the other hand, he stabbed her in the heart as she begged him to cease blaspheming and she then forgave him with her dying breath, the deal is done. Ernesto's doubts go far beyond absence of faith; he remembers his mother's complacent devotion to the church as an abdication of responsibility for grappling with earthly life — especially her doubtless trying brood of boys. He's also a little unnerved by the way Vatican errand boys keep turning up fortuitously, as though they were following him, and discomfited by the questions his small son, Leonardo (Alberto Mondini), has begun asking about God. Ernesto is hard put to address Leonard's concerns without either compromising his convictions or drawing the child into a wounding cultural debate. Discussing matters with Leonardo's religion teacher only complicates matters further; Miss Sereni (Chiara Conti) is a babe, an artist and a great admirer of Ernesto's work. But is she also a ringer charged with seducing him around to the family's way of thinking? Bellocchio stirred up the inevitable controversy by implying that the process of saint-making is tainted by secular concerns — having one in the family apparently carries serious cachet in Italy — but his film isn't polemical. It's a sly, subtle portrait of systematic hypocrisy (try to count the number of times faith is referred to as an "insurance policy") and the mysterious way fate binds children to their parents, embodied in the Mona Lisa smile Ernesto inherited from the mother he's so determined to refute.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Veteran provocateur Marco Bellocchio uses the possibility of a woman's canonization to trap her relatives in a hornet's nest of personal agendas and religious intrigue. Artist Ernesto Picciafuoco (Sergio Castellitto), a resolute atheist, is stunned when pa… (more)

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