Cristiana Dell’Anna’s performance memorable in ‘Cabrini’

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Alejandro Monteverde surprised the feature film world last year with his movie “Sound of Freedom.” Despite being released by a small studio with little fanfare, it became one of the biggest box office draws of the summer, often outdrawing major blockbusters.

The film attracted the massive moviegoing audience through its story that examined the horrors of the trafficking of children. The director goes down a similar path with his new film, “Cabrini.” It also looks at the inhumane treatment of children and how one person finds a way to make a difference.

“Cabrini,” set to open March 8 in local theaters, is the true story of a headstrong nun who comes to New York City in the late 1800s and overcomes her own poor health and rampant misogyny to build a worldwide empire of hope.

Mother Francesca Cabrini (Christina Dell’Anna) became one of the most influential people at the turn of the 20th century. She became the first American Female to be sainted by the Catholic Church as well as the Patron Saint of the Immigrant. The film shows how it took an overwhelming passion to serve God and the people who had been forsaken for her to accomplish a global mission.

Cabrini and a few other nuns arrive at Five Points in New York City, a place where hope goes to die a violent death. It will take a miracle – or a nun who won’t say no – to get the government and church to acknowledge the blatant bigotry for those at the margins of society. This has to be accomplished while Cabrini deals with a health diagnosis that gave her only a few years to live.

Unlike Monteverde’s “Sound of Freedom,” Cabrini didn’t have to deal with heavily armed men hiding deep in the jungle. But, the streets of New York were not any safer especially for Italian immigrants who were treated as being less than human. The largest group of victims ended up being the children who were either abandoned in the streets or left alone when their parents died.

The claim that rats in New York got better treatment was not hyperbole. This element of the film should resonate loudly considering the current battles being waged over immigrants.

Monteverde shows this world through dark and gruesome imagery all designed to show how bright a light Cabrini became for the community. That light starts with a memorable performance by Dell’Anna.

Every year, the Motion Picture Academy tends to overlook some very good performances for Oscar consideration. This tends to happen if that work occurs early in the year. It is a long time before next year’s Oscar nominations will be considered but at this point, Dell’Anna’s portrayal of the crusading Mother is the best performance to date.

The Italian actress is able to get across the determination needed to make Mother Cabrini come across as a force that could topple high officials. At the same time, there is a vulnerability in her eyes created by the pain and suffering she sees. Her performance also features just enough passion that makes Mother Cabrini come across as a champion but never more than a human being with a deep devotion.

Dell’Anna is particularly good in scenes with John Lithgow who plays corruptible New York Major Jacob Gould. Lithgow tends to play roles as the character being larger than life. He does that here but the energy that Dell’Anna counters with makes this David-and-Goliath tussle of wills seem very competitive.

She turns in the same kind of performance in scenes with David Morse as Archbishop Corrigan. Their battles are not as intense but the transition of their working relationship going from antagonistic to more consolatory creates notable moments.

Odds are “Cabrini” will not be the box office shocker that “Sound of Freedom” became. That will be a shame because in many ways “Cabrini” is just as reflective of what is happening in today’s world as the director’s other work.

It is a moving tale of how absolute desperation can be defeated one person at a time. Dell’Anna’s performance reinforces that message from start to finish.

Movie review


Grade: B

Cast: Christina Dell’Anna, John Lithgow, David Morse, Giancarlo Giannini, Patch Darragh.

Director: Alejandro Monteverde

Rated: PG-13 for thematic material, violence, smoking

Running time: 145 minutes.

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