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Gritty cult director Ferrara gets religion in ‘Padre Pio’

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ROME — Abel Ferrara immersed himself in the soulless evils of drug addiction, corruption and sexual violence in his New York exploitation films of the 1980s and 1990s, in his last film, Padre Homage to Pio, one of Italy’s most famous and revered saints. “

The film, starring Shia LaBeouf and premiering at the Venice Film Festival next week, confirms that the cult director’s change of pace is an understatement as Ferrara, 71, combines a decade of sobriety with a new life in Italy. save it.

“Once we got rid of drugs and alcohol, we started to see a different way of life, a different way of life,” the ‘Bad Lieutenant’ director said in an interview in his short story. birthplace of Rome. “I think it’s more about trying to play our game well.”

The film chronicles a specific moment in 20th-century Italian history, when the mysterious Capuchin monk is known to have shown the “stigmata” wounds of Christ: bleeding from his hands, feet and sides of his body. Padre Pio died in 1968, was canonized by Saint John Paul II in 2002, and has since become one of the most popular saints in Italy, the United States and beyond.

Ferrara’s treatment is no biopic, and it frankly ignores some of the funniest parts of the Padre Pio saga, which involves more than a dozen Vatican investigations into allegations of flirting with women, misconduct alleged financial and suspicions of shame. Instead, Ferrara weaves a side story about the origins of Italian fascism that, unexpectedly, is quite relevant today.

The film begins with the arrival of Padre Pio at the Capuchin monastery in the impoverished town of San Giovanni Rotondo, in southern Italy, when local soldiers return home after World War I. The city is almost feudal, with factory unrest and peasant strikes amid the first signs of the postwar socialist movement in Italy, with the Catholic Church and wealthy big landowners trying to hold on to power.

After the Socialists’ victory in the local elections of 1920, social unrest erupted into a little-known police massacre of the peasants of San Giovanni, the results of which were rejected by the entrenched Church-backed ruling class. On October 14, 1920, when the victorious Socialists tried to raise a red flag over the municipal building and become mayor, the police were present and gunfire rang out, killing 14 people and injuring 80. For Ferrara, the “Massacre of San Giovanni Rotondo” helped predict the spread of fascism in Italy.

Ferrara, who has lived in Italy for about 20 years, started making the film five years ago, long before the Jan. 6 riots in his native United States, as supporters of President Donald Trump swarmed after refusing to respect the results of the elections. in the United States Capitol. The 2020 election, or the rise of the far-right Brotherhood of Italy in its adopted country. The Italian Brotherhood, with its neo-fascist roots, is leading the polls ahead of next month’s Italian legislative elections. Combined with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ferrara saw history repeat itself.

“When January 6 comes around after working on this movie for five years, it’s like, Yeah, the election is great until you lose,” he said.

This film is dedicated to the victims of the 1920 Holocaust and the Ukrainian people. Why? “I’m watching a replay of World War II. 70 years ago, 75 million people died. Like yesterday. It happened before our eyes,” he said.

The setting of the film, he says solemnly, is: “You are witnessing the end of the world.

Ferrara’s focus on Italian history, Catholicism and his fascination with Father Pio is nothing new: Ferrara, who was born in the Bronx, was Catholic and was introduced to Italy and the Saints by his grandfather, born in In a small town not far from the birthplace of Padre Pio. Petresine.

These interests have emerged in Ferrara’s most recent films, including “Pasolini,” which pays homage to the scandalous and violent death of Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, released in 2014 and premiered in Venice. and “Mary”, about an actor (Juliette Binoche) who plays Mary Magdalene in the film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Venice in 2005.

“Pasolini” and “Padre Pio” relied heavily on the diaries, writings and documents of their subjects, with Ferrara first making a documentary about the life of the saint, then deciding on his arrival at San Giovanni Rotondo for a period specific. about his doubts about his beliefs and the events surrounding the 1920 massacre.

“I think the merging of the Holocaust and its stigmata happened in the same place at the same time…I mean, how could you not make a movie out of it?” said Ferrara.

But Ferrara is well aware of his early genre work – he did porn, rape revenge, his 1993 cult classic about the corrupt, drug-addicted cop “Bad Lieutenant” and his first “Drill Killer” about New York City. . The artist who killed random people with an electric drill gave him some fame.

“Given the list of movies I’ve done, you’ll want to know that,” Ferrara admits. But he said church officials and Capuchin monks advising on set were fully supportive of the project and its star LaBeouf, who admitted to being an alcoholic and accused of abuse by his ex-girlfriend. Ferrara said LaBeouf prepared for the role for four months at a monastery in California and said the opportunity to play “Padre Pio” was a miracle for him personally.

“It’s just that these cats have this optimistic attitude,” Ferrara said of the church admiringly. “Don’t judge a person at the worst possible moment.”

For more information on the Venice Film Festival, visit: www.apnews.com/VeniceFilmFestival

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