Shia LaBeouf stars in rambling, sloppy drama about Italian brother

First thing is first, Abel Ferrarathe last movie of “Father Pio“cannot exactly be described as a biographical drama about Francesco Forgione, the Capuchin Franciscan friar whose stigmata and mystical abilities—along with his ties to fascism, and then his rejection—won him controversy during his lifetime. While Shia Labeouf stars like Pio and the film sometimes features him, Ferrara doesn’t pay much attention to the details of his life in a conventional sense. In fact, he spends much of the film’s shooting time among the exploited farmworkers of rural southern Italy who embrace socialism as a way to fight their fascist oppressors. Meanwhile, Pio appears in rambling vignettes grappling with his guilt for various personal failures, such as his escape from military service and his many past sins.

The bifurcated structure and disregard for biographical conventions are welcome approaches, especially for a provocative stylist like Ferrara, but “Padre Pio” can’t spark interest in either narrative, both marred by uneven performances and vague writing. and sloppy. Ferrara can still create compelling images and put together an impressive sequence, like the lengthy introduction of soldiers returning home to the World War I town of San Giovanni Rotondo, which has a tragic and giddy immediacy. But the film’s clumsy melodramatic machinations thwart its efforts to create an austere tone, turning “Padre Pio” into an underdeveloped mess.

More from IndieWire

It’s a shame because, theoretically, the workers’ uprising part of “Padre Pio” could have been convincing on its own merits. Debates about the merits of campaigning versus collective unrest may be familiar but are no less relevant or interesting. Ferrara and co-writer Maurizio Braucci clearly intend the fascist grunts against left-wing rhetoric and cries of a stolen election to have Trumpian resonance, but it’s certainly possible that the minimalist aesthetic gave juice to such a contemporary association. Unfortunately, few of these dialogue-heavy scenes have any sort of rhythm, moving from point to point. Observation scenes, such as when farmhands haul heavy rocks around like a chain gang, fare better, but even those feel slightly monotonous, with Ferrara’s frenetic handheld camera doing too much heavy lifting.

Since “Padre Pio” features a lot of dead air, so to speak, it’s easy to focus on the sometimes distracting and often funny idiosyncrasies. Ferrara’s choice to have the all-Italian cast speak in English sometimes gives their line readings a touch of camp, such as when revolutionary leader Luigi (Vincenzo Crea) begins mooing like a cow during a meeting to illustrate how the nature is a cycle of constant change, or a landowner shouting, “You guys: this is my land!” while firing a pistol wildly at a horse in a thick Italian inflection. Likewise, Blind Willie Johnson’s gospel blues classic “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground,” one of 27 songs included on the Voyager Golden Record launched into space, marking the death of a worker by exhaustion, has a certain uplifting quality. It’s unclear if these moments are meant to be overblown to the point of abstraction or if there’s just a disconnect between concept and execution.

Pio’s scenes, on the other hand, are at the very least more interesting from an authorist point of view, if only because they dovetail perfectly with Ferrara’s thematic obsessions with Catholic guilt, the various threats of temptation and sin in a cloistered environment; and the fractured relationship between body and mind. Ferrara never quite makes explicit the historical or biographical context of Pio’s personal torment, which implicitly gives Pio’s struggle a haunting quality. But too often, LaBeouf broods, cries, and counsels others in a vacuum, which ultimately makes them feel pretty empty.

In some sequences, however, LaBeouf perversely imposes himself as a man in the midst of a perma-spiritual crisis, struggling to find salvation by using his mystical powers to give back to the community. Her sheer commitment to the role combined with Ferrara’s formal patience injects a certain emotional power into a scene where Pio miraculously heals a disabled man on the street. Yet there are so many when LaBeouf simply looks like a walking collection of earnest mannerisms and one-note gestures. Pio cowering naked in the corner of a room shouting “Help me!”, a sequence that features a close-up of LaBeouf’s tear-stained face as saliva dripping from his mouth, should probably look less ridiculous.

Many of Pio’s scenes seamlessly compare LaBeouf’s real-life attempts at redemption following allegations of serious abuse made by his ex-girlfriend, singer FKA Twigs and stylist Karolyn Pho. (Twigs has filed a lawsuit against LaBeouf accusing him of sexual abuse, assault and emotional distress. The trial is scheduled for April next year.) How else to read a scene in which Pio desperately tries to silence a hallucinatory demon bullying him about “The fucking countless women you’ve fucked have had your narcissistic way”? While LaBeouf’s personal life certainly informs his performance, it doesn’t inherently lend these moments more seriousness. They are charged by our extratextual awareness of LaBeouf’s life, but they are rarely elevated by it.

That said, arguably the best and most absurd scene in the film features Asia Argento, credited as “Tall Man”, who comes to Pio and confesses her incestuous urges towards her daughter. Pio condemns the man for his lack of contrition and his cheerful attitude towards the existence of God and Hell. Again, it is possible to read this as LaBeouf flogging the part of himself that he considers secular or amoral, now that he has converted to Catholicism. Lines like “God is able to bring the greatest good out of the worst of tragedies” and “You don’t know if there is Hell?” You will when you get there” feeling uncomfortable as LaBeouf confronting himself. But if so, its effect is greatly neutralized by Pio remaining the moral authority against a patently immoral man. For better or worse, the sickening, porous ambiguity of the scene is quintessential Ferrara, culminating with LaBeouf yelling hysterically in a voice that most closely resembles the actor’s, “Shut the fuck up!” Say, ‘Christ is Lord’!”

It’s a shame that the rest of “Padre Pio” lacks the flawed tension of this scene. Instead, we are left with two disjointed tragic tales that barely reflect on each other and communicate little or nothing, compounded by the presence of a controversial actor who seeks sympathy and admiration through a disparaging performance or blatantly uses the role as a means of personal communication. therapy. Either way, it’s

To note: VS

“Padre Pio” premiered at the 2022 Venice Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.

Best of IndieWire

Register for Indiewire Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitterand instagram.

Click here to read the full article.