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In his best film in years, Marco Bellocchio crafts a stringently moral tale (2002) that carries a hint of horror, as if his hero had caught a whiff of hellfire. Ernesto (Sergio Castellitto, in a broodingly charismatic performance) is awakened one morning by a Vatican emissary who reveals that Ernesto's deceased mother, a woman of pedestrian accomplishments and garden-variety faith, has been proposed for sainthood. This determinedly atheist son subsequently discovers the dark motives, high ambitions, and venal dreams that have led his family to mount a secret campaign toward this end. Now they need his help. Bellocchio constructs Ernesto's moral dilemma with evident relish, placing his character between a morass of hypocrisy and a yawning pit of childhood guilt. The film's chiaroscuro lighting and sumptuous imagery suggest the netherworlds Ernesto's intellect so rigorously rejects. In Italian with subtitles. 103 min.

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