Written by Boyd van Hoeij
Thursday, 20 April 2006
Nothing less than a double suicide from a dazzling height initiates the fifth and by far best film of Italo-Turkish director Ferzan Ozpetek. With an equally dazzling central performance by another foreigner settled in Italy, Slovakian actress Barbora Bobulova, Cuore sacro (Sacred Heart) could very well win Ozpetek new fans at home and abroad as he forsakes his overly sentimental style for something both more subtle and more resonant.
Co-written and directed by Ozpetek, Cuore sacro is an exploration of goodness and religion and how they interact (and more often than not fail to interact) in Italian society in particular and the world at large. Unlike the director’s previous efforts (such as much laurelled La finestra di fronte/Facing window) there are no homosexual or otherwise marginalised or penniless protagonists; in Cuore sacro it is in fact fundamental that the main character is rich, at least at the start of the story.
Businesswoman Irene (Bobulova) has just won the Entrepreneur of the Year Award when she meets a small and apparently innocent girl called Benny, who soon reveals herself to be a small time crook. Irene’s motherly instincts are awakened by both the girl and a visit to her late parents’ former palazzo, but as she tries to teach Benny about right and wrong, a grave accident quickly turns the tables and instead it is Irene who will be re-examining the issues she thought she was so fit to teach.
The story seems perfect fodder for an Italian melodrama of epic proportions but Ozpetek — guilty of exactly that in his previous effort — here opts for a more restrained approach that pays off double. His actors tap not only into the humanity of their characters but especially their groundedness, something which is very much needed to make the later, more ethereal sections fly. Bobulova is credible all the way through, from cold, blue-eyed businesswoman to her drastic transformation later on in the film, whilst the little Camille Dugay Comencini almost gives Bobulova a run for her money; despite her age she is able to imbue Benny with the necessary edge that easily makes her overcome what could have been the stereotypical “child as angelic vessel of goodness” role.
Gianfilippo Corticelli’s crystal clear cinematography (reminiscent of his work on Sergio Castellito’s recent Non ti muovere/Don’t move) further helps to set Cuore sacro aside from its Italian made-for-TV colleagues and is at times positively Shyamalanian in the tension it knows to generate from seemingly nothing. Except for the synthesiser-driven musical score (essentially a copy-and-paste job from La finestra di fronte), all technical contributions are excellent.
Cuore sacro is a stunner in many ways, firstly because it shows us a whole new level of subtlety in the universe of Ozpetek and co-writer and producer Gianni Romoli and secondly because, despite its poster image that evokes the worst of Catholic kitsch and its horrible title, Cuore sacro has a complicated message at its heart but weaves its plot, characters and its arguments ever so elegantly into a satisfying whole.