A young nun, a Laundromat owner, and a teenage girl: lonely individuals living in protective shells, drawn together by capricious circumstance. This year’s Italian Oscar entry might be called Life Is Bittersweet. As it is, the title Not of This World means to convey a kind of poignant irony: We all feel that we are not of this world, which makes us so emphatically of this world. Searching for the identity of an abandoned baby, the nun, Caterina (Margherita Buy), follows her only clue—the baby’s wrap—to the Laundromat of deeply repressed Ernesto (the superb Silvio Orlando). Meanwhile, it’s not hard to guess that Teresa (Carolina Freschi), the frail and frumpy teenage girl wandering Milan, is the baby’s mother, or that once you wash that face, she’ll look like Ally Sheedy at the end of The Breakfast Club.
Giuseppe Piccioni’s patient, affectedly unaffected style is reminiscent of recent Belgian and French naturalism. He refrains from explicit psychologizing, but drops helpful hints that flatter the viewer—Caterina uncovers a telltale photo of Ernesto with his arm around a woman; when Teresa’s stepfather hugs her, she flinches, but oh so slightly—scenes unpunctuated and brief enough to give the impression of subtlety. The film is patently rigged, but particularly when Ernesto’s profoundly morose features start to relax, its restrained humanism can be hard to resist.