The title of 30-year-old Italian Alice Rohrwacher's first feature film translates as "heavenly body". That could be a description of its protagonist, Marta (Yle Vianello), a blond, fair-skinned 13-year-old who is about to embark on a new stage in life with the catechism classes she attends to prepare for confirmation. At the same time she experiences her first period.
The title could also describe Marta's alienation from her surroundings. The Swiss-born girl, adjusting to a new life in a gritty town in the southern Italian region of Calabria, is like a star crashing down to earth. She sees her new home as a disturbing place where religion is practised as pop culture (the confirmation song is turned into a cheesy disco number) and for pragmatism (Don Mario, the parish priest, canvasses votes for a local politician while working for a transfer to a bigger church).
Rohrwacher could have made the film as a social-realist critique of the profane distortions of organised religion. But what makes
Corpo Celeste - to be shown at the Cine Italiano! Festival at the Grand Cinema next week - delightful is the empathy the director brings to the premise. So it is that the religious rituals are all about putting up appearances - as in the opening scene, where the congregation is coaxed by the priest to wait in an empty riverbed for the visiting bishop. Rohrwacher shows her sympathy for the predicament of the small-town folk and their reluctant "shepherd".
As Marta becomes increasingly disillusioned and sets out to reinvent herself, she discovers the priest is more of a confused, lonely individual rather than an embodiment of Italy's corrupt social ills. Her rite of passage eventually brings an epiphany, as gems of rural wisdom enlighten her about the state of things. Throughout this journey of self-discovery Rohrwacher shows an eye for the visually poetic and
Corpo Celeste certainly lives up to its title.
, Sept 24, 7.30pm, The Grand Cinema, Elements Mall