Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 09, 2012 7:09 am 
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The Pope's team

Verzillo's very mainstream, middle-brow Italian comedy concerns a monsignor at the Vatican who conceives the idea of publicizing the company brand by mounting a Vatican team to enter the London Olympics. If this were a film by Matteo Garrone or Paolo Sorrentino it would be steeped in complex 21st-century ironies. But though Verzillo jokes around and throws in some curse words, he means for us to take his premise straight. This is such a square movie it could almost have come from the Fifties. Consequently it is doomed to oblivion, despite the efforts of a competent cast featuring Jordi Mollà of Colombiana. This effort is not far from its director's TV comedy origins. However, as local reviews have noted, it's unusual for the Italian film industry to produce a "sports epic."

The basic premise is a dubious and unusual scheme whose success requires suspension of disbelief. Young, energetic Monsignor Angelo Paolini (Domenico Fortunato) is a minor papal functionary with a bumptious enthusiasm. He is always dreaming up absurd gimmicks to update the image of the Catholic Church and communicate to the younger generation. These include jiggly-head Pope dolls, cell phone apps heralding the Virgin Mary and rap jingles -- all stuff his straight-laced superiors, like Monsignor Higgins (Ralph Palka) reject with annoyance. The idea of a Vatican Olympic team is something more solid. Angelo gets by his two superiors' objections by tricking each into thinking the other has approved it. He's helped in this by childhood friend and eager dad Mario Guarrazzi (Mollà), whose runner son's Olympic dreams he's pushed for years, and who now suddenly wants to become a priest.

Mario is the classic parent trying to satisfy his frustrations through his child. He himself was a 100 meter champion, but never made it to the Olympics. Now he wants Tommaso (Lorenzo Richelmy) to achieve that dream, and he doesn't want Tommaso's recent decision to join a monastery to get in the way. It's when Mario begs Antonio to change Tommaso's mind that the monsignor has the brilliant idea of fielding a Vatican Olympic team. This would enable Mario's frustrated dream to come true and also promote the image of the Holy Sea to youth and to the world. And the 2012 London Olympics are coming up.

The plot provides ample opportunities for humor, misunderstandings, hopes and color, the latter through some quick trips to such far-flung spots as Colombia, Brazil, and Chad to recruit priests or nuns with athletic talent. There's also a love interest for the frustrated Mario (Giulia Bevilacqua), and some scenes of finals. The whole idea isn't that far-fetched: after all, the Vatican City is, technically, an independent state.

This is a perfectly pleasing movie, full of boisterous energy and well suited for a less discerning tube-trained audience.

100 metri dal Paradiso, 95min., was released in Italy May 11, 2012. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New Italian Cinema series, Nov. 11-18, 2012. Local showtimes Fri., Nov. 16, 6:30 pm and Sat., Nov. 17, 1:15 pm, both at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema, San Francisco.

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