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Film review: Il Mio Corpo

08 January 2021

Here is a waste land, but not without God, says Stephen Brown

THE film Il Mio Corpo (Cert. 12A) is a docu-drama about two youths living in Sicily. Each is caught up in a different experience of the island’s sense of forsakenness. In a place cut off from the ways of mainland Italy, the Christian faith appears to be one unifying factor in people’s lives.

We see this most readily in Stanley, a Nigerian permitted to stay a maximum of six months. Coming from a church background himself, he is employed by the local priest as a cleaner before securing a string of temporary jobs. It is an environment with little assurance of permanency for anyone. In a world of plenty, the director Michele Pennetta paints a picture of economic desperation.

This is particularly relevant when considering the life of the other youth, Oscar. Under the auspices of his mercurial and abusive father, he and his brother assist in gleaning scrap metal discarded at various dumping grounds. At one such place, Oscar uncovers a statue of the Virgin Mary. The parched earth of a hostile terrain reflects the interior landscape not only of Oscar, yearning for escape, but also Stanley, who, pilgrim-like, is seeking somewhere full of promise.

This truly is a waste land, one, in T. S. Eliot’s words, showing us fear in a handful of dust. Under searing heat, the population suffers a malaise of disaffection. It is a condition the psalmist describes as the sickness that destroyeth in the noonday, providing an image for the monk John Cassian’s understanding of accidie as a spiritual wasting away.

The film has a post-apocalyptic feel to it, of those left behind after a great ordeal. Il Mio Corpo means “My Body” and leads us into questions of incarnation — of what inhabits this outer shell. If Stanley and Oscar live in suspended animation, then so do we all. We are in this together. It is a corporeal experience. Yet this is never an evil world: disillusioned, yes, but filled with potential grace.

The Christian symbolism ensures that we get the point. The film begins and ends with Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. We, with the mother of Jesus, may find ourselves partaking in her pain at the foot of the cross. When Stanley and his flatmate Blessed say grace together, there is a palpable expectation that Christ will make himself known in their breaking of bread. Oscar’s epiphany moments come in joyful exultation, freewheeling his bike along winding roads interspersed with contemplative shots, giving both characters time to meditate, take stock, break out.

The climax occurs in green pastures where sheep may safely graze. We are not made or unmade by the world as it is, but by our attitudes to it. It may be our happiness, as St Paul puts it, to continue in our poor bodies the full tale of Christ’s affliction; but there are positive choices along the route, ones that avoid our being victims, but, rather, bodies alive with the love that sets us free. We have heard this already from Stanley’s priest: “Memories fill the heart, but they shouldn’t hold back the future. You always have to stay positive”.

Finding a lasting identity for the bodies that we inhabit is a quest common to both young and old, irrespective of external circumstances.

Released in selected cinemas and available on Curzon Home Cinema

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