“Cabrini” review: A Catholic nun’s fight for Italian… | WORLD
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MOVIE | Angel Studios’ biopic about a Catholic nun’s dogged advocacy for Italian immigrants in the 1880s is well-produced but keeps its religious content vague

Angel Studios

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Rated PG-13

Director Alejandro Monteverde made a name for himself when his Sound of Freedom became the ­surprise hit of last summer. The faith-inflected film from Angel Studios dramatized the true story of one man’s fight against human trafficking, and it outperformed the Mission: Impossible and Indiana Jones sequels at the box office. Monteverde’s new movie depicts a different time and place, but it explores some of the same themes as Sound of Freedom. But this time it’s one woman fighting for the intrinsic dignity of all people.

Cabrini tells the story of Francesca Cabrini, the Roman Catholic nun and founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Mother Cabrini’s story begins in Italy during the 1880s when she and her followers petition the pope for permission to open an orphanage in China. The pontifical bureaucracy attempts to block Cabrini’s efforts to see the pope, but the diminutive nun shows surprising resolve. She manages to gain an audience with the pope, but he refuses to allow her to begin a mission in China. Instead, he sends her to New York City and charges her with alleviating the suffering of the poor Italian immigrants who have flocked there.

The intransigence of papal lackeys turns out to be one of the lesser difficulties Cabrini must navigate. In New York, she gains little assistance from the archbishop, despite the pope’s blessing on her mission, and she receives outright hostility from the city government. With limited resources, Cabrini and her nuns set out to save the children of Five Points, which at the time was one of the worst slums in the Western world. The film depicts Mother Cabrini as having both grit and an entrepreneurial spirit. She’s a woman who makes things happen.

Italian actress Cristiana Dell’Anna plays Cabrini with the right mix of heartfelt compassion and steely determination. But she has a hunted look about her, as though the enormity of her task might overwhelm her at any minute. David Morse and John Lithgow also give solid performances as some of the men who are less than enthusiastic about her mission.

Cabrini experiences prejudice because she’s a woman, but the movie’s real focus is on the prejudice the newly arrived Italians experience in America. We hear the refrain of “Stay where you belong.” As Monteverde calls attention to the plight of the Italian immigrants, it seems clear the Mexican director wants to turn our attention to the contemporary situation at America’s southern border. He revisits the theme from Sound of Freedom that all God’s children are entitled to being treated with dignity. Of course this is true, but merely treating immigrants with dignity isn’t sufficient to solve the border crisis.

Cabrini tells the story of Francesca Cabrini, the Roman Catholic nun and founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

At two hours and 25 minutes, Cabrini starts to drag toward the end, but on the whole Monteverde and Angel Studios have produced a movie that rivals any Hollywood biopic in its production values. The sets and costumes allow us to feel both the grime and the glamour of New York at the end of the 19th century. The cinematography and the lighting effects are excellent. The filmmakers seem to have even taken a cue from Hollywood when portraying the story’s religious aspect: Keep things vague.

For a story about a Roman Catholic nun, there’s surprisingly little talk about God or religion. In the film, Cabrini speaks about her vision of building an “empire of hope,” but it’s couched in terms of a personal ambition rather than a divine calling, and the “hope” she refers to seems to be the alleviation of poverty rather than an eternal hope in the gospel. Don’t expect to hear about Jesus in this film. He’s too polarizing to show up in a film with Tinseltown pretensions.

The missing Christ was most notable in a scene in which Cabrini comforts a prostitute who feels trapped by her past. The nun tells the miserable girl to make better choices since God gave us free will, offering no word of forgiveness or atonement. That’s the kind of message that can-do, entrepreneurial Americans love to hear. The problem is it’s not the gospel.

Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD’s arts and culture editor. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University and resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.



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