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  • Benjamin May

Padre Pio (2022) Review

The First World War has just ended, but peace is far from the Italian village of San Giovanni Rotondo. As families welcome back their loved ones from the battlefield, a new conflict brews between the socialist peasants and their oppressive landowners. Meanwhile, in the village convent, Capuchin friar Padre Pio is having a crisis of faith. Encountering demons and suffering from vivid, dark hallucinations, will the friar overcome his troubles, and will the villagers find their freedom?


Directed by Abel Ferrara, ‘Padre Pio’ is a witless Frankenstein’s monster: a strange, plodding drama that feels like two vastly different films spliced poorly together; neither of which are very good. Written by Ferrara and Maurizio Braucci- alongside whom Ferrara wrote the far more interesting ‘Pasolini’- the film aims to explore themes of spirituality and politics in post-war Italy, but ends up saying nothing at all. The links between the story involving the villagers and the one concerning the titular character are tenuous and poorly explained, while the complete package is so slow and tedious it would be more worthwhile watching paint dry.

Moreover, the dialogue is stilted and cliched, with the villagers’ arguments for and against socialism being especially trite and banal. Often, it sounds like bad improvisation- and the fact that the mostly Italian cast struggle to deliver their lines in English doesn’t help matters. Additionally, although Ferrara tries to juxtapose the suffering of Pio with that of the villagers, it doesn’t work, feeling ham-fisted at best. Furthermore, his portrayal of the friar isn’t sympathetic, nor interesting, with no backstory or characterisation. There’s no reason to root for him, and his dull journey towards stigmata simply isn’t engaging.


Having said that, there are moments throughout that hold interest, even if they’re too few and far between. An all-too-short scene involving a character confessing his lust for his daughter brims with an intriguing menace, while the opening sequence- in which soldiers return from the war- is well realized, with minimal dialogue. Unfortunately, scenes like those are rare gems in a sea of mediocrity, and the majority of the narrative is a slog.

On the other hand, Alessandro Abate’s muted cinematography adds a dose of realism to proceedings, and is consistently striking. Tommaso Ortino’s production design lends additional authenticity to the picture, while the set and costume design is of a particularly high quality. However, Joe Delia’s score- incorporating, at one point, Southern chain-gang music- is overblown, lacking subtlety or power.


Shia La Beouf stars as the titular character, delivering a performance of staggering self-indulgence, going so over-the-top he makes Nicolas Cage in ‘Vampire’s Kiss’ look like a masterpiece of understatement. It is a misjudged attempt to outdo Daniel Day-Lewis in the intensity department, making Padre Pio look petulant, insane and dour. His Italian co-stars all do more nuanced work, but the impact of their performances are severely hampered by their having to speak in English. Worth mentioning, however, is Asia Argento, who plays the incestuous father, injecting some much-needed energy into a lifeless film.

In conclusion, Abel Ferrara’s ‘Padre Pio’ is a failure, both as a biopic of the titular character and as a drama concerning Italian socio-political history. Drab, dull and disappointing, the narrative lacks wit, insight and entertainment value, while the dialogue is consistently contrived and unnatural. While the cinematography and production design are commendable, the score is poor and the central performance from Shia LaBeouf is terribly over-the-top. In short, it’s a boring waste of time, deserving Three Hail Marys, and nothing more.

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