L'ora di religione: ll sorriso di mia madre

             One of the criticisms levelled against Pope John Paul II involved the changes made in allowing for the
     canonization of individuals as saints. In some ways the procedure has been sped up and has resulted in some
     odd and controversial choices. The process is ripe for satire and filmmaker Marco Bellocchio's take on the
L'ora di religione: Il sorriso di mia madre (or MY MOTHER'S SMILE in English), has
     earned the scorn of the Roman Catholic Church in Italy and around the world.

             The film centers on a renowned illustrator, Ernesto Picciafuocco (played by Sergio Castellitto). Early
     on in the movie, he learns that his family has been pushing his mother for sainthood. Since Ernesto hated her
     and is also an atheist, the news comes as something of a shock. But his surviving relatives are clinging to the
     hopes that the canonization will somehow restore their family to its fame and fortune. Needless to say,
     Ernesto is far from impressed. Yet, even his estranged wife Irene (Jacqueline Lustig) and his son Leonardo
     (Alberto Mondini) have been touched by the desire.

             Ernesto has also inherited his mother's smile, a cross between a knowing smirk and a slightly
     condescending grin. Since this is a film, it manages to get Ernesto into trouble with a titled nobleman
     and his cronies who determine that the smile is meant as an insult and the nobleman challenges the illustrator
     to a duel. All the while, Ernesto is on a quest to determine exactly what his family is up to and why. He visits
     various relatives, including an aunt who is spearheading the proceedings, his mentally unstable brother who
     killed their mother during one of his fits and is now in prison, as well as his other brother, a successful doctor
     who has returned to Catholicism, and his estranged wife. Floating in the mix is a beautiful young woman
     (Chiara Conti) whom Ernesto mistakes for his son's religion teacher but whose presence is never fully
     explained. (One can debate for hours whether she is real, a figment of Ernesto's imagination, or some ghostly
     presence sent by a Higher Power.)

             The film raises some potent issues, but it begs some credulity as well. It's very hard to believe that
     Ernesto would have no inkling at all about his family's plans regarding his mother's canonization. I suppose
     because she was the victim of domestic abuse (we hear the murder on the soundtrack but are not shown it),
     one may argue that Ernesto chose to distance himself from them all. Also, even with the streamlining of the
     process by the Vatican, there are still investigations that go on long before the steps to the declaration of
     sainthood. (Indeed, the individual is first "beatified" and then there is the business of them having to perform
     at least two miracles. The film telescopes it into a single miracle relating to a close friend of the family.)

MY MOTHER'S SMILE raises some intriguing and interesting points. It's well-acted, especially by
     Castellitto, but there are some holes in the plot and its execution. It's a film that should be seen and then
     discussed over a great Italian meal.

 Rating:                           B-
MPAA Rating:              Not rated (mature themes)
Running time:                103 mins.
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.