We are now in the month of June, so the idea of Shia LaBeouf in the title role of a fictionalized biography of the revered and controversial Italian cleric Padre Pio directed by Abel Ferrara has a low probability of being some kind of April Fool’s joke. This is a real movie. And alas, an occasionally rank one.
Now Ferrara hasn’t even attempted a conventional biopic of the man born Francesco Forgione at the end of the 19th century, and who, according to some accounts, started displaying stigmata after an illness-plagued childhood. And that’s to his credit. Rather, he’s attempted a sometimes Brechtian consideration of the nodes of political history and spirituality.
The movie is set in the Italy between two world wars, during which time Pio was a priest in San Giovanni Rotondo, where he spent his entire life. (And where a 1920 Fascist-initiated massacre of civilians took place; the movie ends with a depiction of it.) Ferrara’s narrative toggles between Padre Pio’s cloistered, spiritually tormented existence and the Socialist and Fascist factions competing to transform Italy at the time.
LaBeouf essays a rather, let’s say, contemporary Pio. And completely sinks the picture. Early in the movie Pio is asked by an interrogator about the “countless” women “you had your narcissistic way with.” Who’s under scrutiny here, the character, or LaBeouf himself, who’s recently faced allegations of sexual abuse from more than one woman? Later, a male character played by Asia Argento confesses feeling lust for his own daughter, and LaBeouf’s Pio, utterly callow in spite of his prodigious beard, tells him to shut-the-you-know-what-up. He detaches the movie from the Brechtian and lands it firmly in the territory of “improv scene workshop gone horribly wrong.”
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