It's so rare to see any serious contemplation of religion in movies today that the subject always feels fresh. The Italian film "Corpo Celeste," however, does not present itself as a message movie. It strikes a very personal tone as one young girl at the brink of womanhood tries to understand how religion might (or might not) be incorporated into her life. In a culture where religion is such a dominating force, 13-year old Marta might easily be dismissed as a trouble maker. But with a clear eye, she sees not the idea of religious practice but its implication. Instead of blindly accepting prescribed doctrine, she seems to be on a spiritual journey of her own. And her quiet reflection might be quite a bit more meaningful. I had heard certain criticism leveled at "Corpo Celeste" for its portrayal of the Catholic Church. Some say the portrait is too broad, but I heartily disagree. I think it presents the individuals involved as full fledged characters struggling to retain meaning in their own lives. That, to me, is far more realistic than unquestioned devotion and service.
Marta, from the start, is presented as an outsider. Having spent a decade abroad, she struggles to fit back into the church hierarchy. As her confirmation date approaches, she quietly observes the actions unfolding before her. From the insecurities of her teacher, to the apathy of the priest, to a class of students just going through the motions--Marta doesn't appear to be convinced of the importance of her big day. "Corpo Celeste," though, doesn't spell much out for the viewer. You might interpret the film's central themes in a number of ways. It is not driven by plot, but in small moments as Marta explores the world around her and tries to make sense of her new maturity. Yle Vianello, as Marta, doesn't always say a lot but she conveys much with her quiet observations. At times she is merely inquisitive and at times she seeks to provoke, but she is always trying to exert her individuality. As I said, the movie doesn't serve up many big dramatic moments or cue a certain emotional response. Your reaction to the film is likely to be very personal. Maybe that's as it should be as we each value religion and/or spirituality in completely individual ways.
The DVD presentation has a Bonus Short Film from Germany called "Raju." This 25 minute endeavor was Oscar nominated and it's easy to see why. It feels like a fully satisfying and thought provoking feature film and not a short! A German couple in India decide to adopt a boy. When tragedy strikes, it brings the whole adoption process into question and the couple struggle to reconcile their personal desires against their moral duties. "Raju" asks some difficult and weighty questions, and I admired and respected the fact that it doesn't take the easy way out. It's both bold and exceedingly well acted and it gets my highest recommendation. Along with "Corpo Celeste," there is much food for thought in this DVD release. Stark, raw, and surprisingly open-ended, there is a haunting quality to the selections that may linger with you long after viewing. And that can never be a bad thing! KGHarris, 10/12.