“Il Mio Corpo”: Film Review

The last instalment of Michele Pennetta’s Sicilian trilogy, “Il Mio Corpo”, is an affecting chamber piece that plays out under huge skies.

“Il Mio Corpo” is affecting. The story at its heart and its iconography make it so, and Pennetta’s accomplished filmmaking make it all possible. His filmmaking methods, working over many months with non-actors, results in a style that some have mistaken for documentary yet that transcends that form.

Shot in Scope on a Canon C300 Mark II by cinematographer Paolo Ferrari, the photography is striking and intensely specific to both story and setting, with the camera soaking up the Sicilian sunlight and vast skies. Pennetta once said of Sicily that “I have always imagined Sicily as an almost post-apocalyptic but contemporary western. The impression I got the first time I went was as if a bomb had exploded and what remained was the remains of the remains, the sediment of the sediment. These people who remained were part of the foundations”.

Stanley and Oscar lead parallel lives, far from each other, yet, unknowingly, very close. Stanley is a young refugee from Nigeria, barely an adult, and with a kind, calm and optimistic disposition. Oscar is a local boy just reaching his mid-teens. He lives in poverty with his family, helping his father collect scrap metal. He seems somehow in much direr straits and is perhaps more lonely than Stanley.

It becomes obvious that his existence is joyless, in great part because of his father’s gruff resentment of something that likely had been out of Oscar’s control. Yet he is blamed. Oscar has also been abandoned by his mother, and the nature of her departure is ambiguous.

Work is scarce for everyone, but a local priest sources odd jobs for Stanley – sweeping the church, sheep herding, and also offers him food straight out of the church’s kitchen fridge.

Stanley and Oscar both have limited horizons and barely any personal freedoms. They are both motherless. Stanley seems to have been a loved child, with an especially caring father. This has left him with the capacity to smile, and bring warmth and a bit of magic to the everyday. Even when things go wrong, he appears more sad than depressed. He still has hope, and remembers, as he tells his friend Blessed, that it has taken courage and strength to be a refugee and to make it to Sicily.

But for Oscar, things are very different. He is more than sad and seemingly uncherished. His despair seems ingrained.

The paradox of Stanley and Oscar’s home, their island, Sicily, is that while its horizons – the land, sea and skies – feel limitless, the possibilities it affords its young people are precarious and meagre. Stanley’s visa does allow him to leave the island and try his luck elsewhere, but for some reason, possibly for his friend Blessed, he stays.

The sound design in “Il Mio Corpo” takes one by surprise, and brings “Il Mio Corpo” into a noticeably different experiential space. It gives the scenes a physical sense that is wholly immersive. One sequence, where Stanley and Blessed swim in a salty glistening sea where the water is almost solid silk, echoes the otherworldliness of the swimming scene in “Moonlight”. The sound gently, evocatively, almost overwhelms the senses. It is a kind of rapture.

In another scene, at night, under a dark starlit sky, Stanley and Oscar’s worlds coexist side by side for a few moments, in an abandoned building used to shelter sheep. Oscar sleeps, and Stanley quietly keeps watch.  It is impossible not to think of a nativity scene.

Music is deployed sparingly in “Il Mio Corpo”, and what music there is, while setting the tone of the film, it also sets its religious and spiritual dimension.

The story opens and closes with Pergolesi’s beautiful and quietly grand “Stabat Mater dolorosa” (the grieving mother stood…), an almost murmured reminder of the film’s title, of Stanley’s and Oscar’s absent and perhaps sorrowful mothers, and of what might be the only true consolation these two young people will get, though one dearly wishes it were otherwise: “Quando corpus morietur, Fac, ut animae donetur Paradisi gloria. Amen.” (When my body dies, let my soul receive the glory of heaven. Amen).

Now playing in the UK at #CurzonHomeCinema.

Director Michele Pennetta.
Screenplay Pennetta, Arthur Brugger, Pietro Passarini.
Camera Paolo Ferrari.
Editors Damian Plandolit, Orsola Valenti
Sound Edgar Iacolenna
Sound design & Mix Riccardo Studer
With Oscar Prestifilippo, Stanley Abhuumen, Roberto Prestifilippo, Marco Prestifilippo, and Blessed Idahosa.

If you are intrigued by Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater”, you can listen to one interpretation of the music here.

Interested in new Italian cinema? You might like to read our thoughts on Alice Rohrwacher’s “Happy as Lazzaro” and on Giada Colagrande’s “Padre“.