GOD WILLING/SE DIO VUOLE, Italy, 2015. Starring Marco Giallini, Alessandro Gassman, Laura Morante, Ilaria Spada. Directed by Eodardo Maria Falcone. 87 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes, coarse language and sexual references.)
A surprising film about priesthood from Italy, Se Dio Vuole/God Willing reminds audiences of Italy’s growing secularisation, the inheritance of the Catholic tradition and rejection of it, and a low opinion of the priesthood.
A young man, Andrea, goes out frequently with a young man and when he asks his family for a meeting, they tend to expect that he will announce that he is gay. They psych themselves up for this, wanting to be broadminded, tolerant, prepared to embrace him. But, what he tells them is that he wants to be a priest. They are not ready for this at all, especially his rather arrogant surgeon father who cannot bring himself to contradict his son but will do anything to stop him becoming a priest.
His mother is more understanding. His sister, who seems to know practically nothing about Catholicism, gets a whim to learn more about it, praying the rosary, watching Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, not wanting anyone to tell and spoil the ending for her.
The father invokes the aid of friends and investigators, following his son only to find that he has gone to a Bible session, conducted by Don Pietro, an enthusiastically vigorous performance by Alessandro Gassman. He has a full house of young listeners, explains the Gospels with great gusto and theatricality. The surgeon wants an investigation done on him, finds that Don Pietro has spent time in jail, for fraud, and suspects that he has brainwashed his son.
Don Pietro is a fine contemporary, pastoral priest. He admits his use of fraud, the time in jail, influenced by the prison chaplain, joining the seminary, concerned for all people in need, rebuilding a church that his mother used to attend, a sensible man in the 21st century ministry.
He has advised Andrea about the priesthood and puts himself out when the surgeon turns up at a session, pretends to be penniless and homeless, sets up his colleagues to confirm his down-and-out status in a rundown house to Don Pietro, but is found out when Don Pietro is visiting his actual home. Don Pietro asks him to do a month’s penance, working on the church with him, where they talk a great deal, go to a hill overlooking a lake which is the priest’s favourite place for reflection, the surgeon upset when Don Pietro has a motorbike accident and spends his time finishing the work on the church. He doesn’t necessarily become a believer – but his attitude towards priests changes, he is more understanding and respectful to his staff, to patients and his wife and daughter – and Don Pietro doesn’t tell him that he actually knew for some time that Andrea, after a retreat, had fallen in love and the priesthood was not for him.
Perhaps the film is saying that celibacy is an impediment for priesthood – and that the better priests are men who have had solid and mixed experiences and are ordained later in their lives.
Palace Films. Released June 2nd
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.