Corpo Celeste (2011)

Rohrwacher’s strong debut feature is naturalistic yet enigmatic in style as a young girl comes to terms with living in a new city where religion almost exclusively determines the way of life.  

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,611

Dir. Alice Rohrwacher
2011 | Italy | Drama | 95 min | 1.85:1 | Italian
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some nudity

Cast: Yle Vianello, Pasqualina Scuncia, Salvatore Cantalupo
Plot: 13-year-old Marta, her mother and her sister move to a small Calabrian town. Marta is sent to the local church to prepare for her Catholic Confirmation and hopefully make new friends. But the religion she finds there, and how it dominates people’s lives, is strange.
Awards: Nom. for Camera d’Or & C.I.C.A.E. Award (Cannes)
International Sales: Rai Cinema

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Coming-of-Age; Religion & Politics
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Corpo Celeste (or ‘Heavenly Body’) marks the debut feature of Alice Rohrwacher who has turned out to be one of the finest female directors to have emerged from Europe over the last ten or so years, with The Wonders (2014) and the utterly exquisite Happy as Lazzaro (2018).  Her latest, La chimera, will compete in the main competition at the Cannes Film Festival. 

In Corpo Celeste, we can already see Rohrwacher’s naturalistic yet enigmatic style in full display as she focuses on a young girl, Marta, who has to come to terms with living in a new city, in this case, Calabria in Southern Italy. 

Much of the film is told from the point-of-view of Marta, who must navigate family problems (her somewhat obnoxious older sister often bullies her while her doting mother works the graveyard shift), and more crucially, her time in a local church where she mingles with a mixture of boys, girls and older teenagers who are all waiting for their Sacrament of Confirmation. 

“When I’m big I want to be a saint, so they’ll all give me gifts.”

Religion almost exclusively determines the way of life in this city, yet as Marta would realise, putting blind faith in religious values does not always guarantee personal fulfilment. 

The miracles of Christ, as breathtaking and soul-affirming as they are, are simply learnt and read; on the other hand, the miracles—or perhaps the enigmas—of life are felt with flesh and bone, even if they may not be immediately understood.  This is what Rohrwacher seems to be saying with Corpo Celeste—a heavenly body is what one makes of it, not one that is ordained. 

A subplot involving a priest who influences and is influenced by the winds of politics provides greater thematic depth to what it means to understand the adult world in a kid’s body. 

Politics and religion are not always mutually exclusive—if an entire community has been made to believe in religious authority since childhood, they can surely also be pressured to vote for any political leader that the church rightly or wrongly endorses. 

Grade: A-


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