First-time writer-director Alice Rohrwacher's minutely observed, emotionally complex Corpo Celeste would be a treat in any season, but it's particularly refreshing amid the summer-movie bombast. An anti-spectacle in every way, the film focuses on 13-year-old Marta (Yle Vianello, a nonpro), who, with her mother (Anita Caprioli) and sisters, has returned to Southern Italy after spending most of her life in Switzerland. Marta, a shy, dreamy, but fiercely observant innocent, is shuffled into Catholic confirmation class as a means of integrating into her new surroundings. The experience does little to cushion her social awakening, let alone encourage a spiritual one: The local priest (Salvatore Cantalupo), a cynical careerist, pours all his effort into finagling a transfer, while the dry dogma of the church itself—no matter how popified for the kids—is cruelly oblivious to Marta's inquisitiveness. As her uncle says and the adult parishioners' rote faith attests, confirmation is "something you go through and forget." The loss is theirs—by Corpo Celeste's ambiguous climax, it seems possible that Marta is bonafide saint material. Rohrwacher almost overplays her metaphors (as when the father's boyhood-village crucifix slides over a cliff en route to its new home), but her understated characterizations, cinematographer Hélène Louvart's rapturous range, and especially Vianello's eerie grace combine to make Corpo Celeste the ideal cinematic antidote to the summer doldrums.
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