It’s not easy being a teenage girl in a European arthouse movie, when your first period will inevitably time its entrance for maximum confidence-crushing effect. For Italian 13-year-old, Marta (Yle Vianello, pictured), it’s her priest who notices the arrival. ‘How did you get dirty?’ he asks, failing to grasp what’s happened with priestly otherworldliness. At times ‘Corpo Celeste’ threatens to overload on innocence-lost clichés like this (in another scene her sister goes postal when Marta borrows her bra). But stick with it and writer/director Alice Rohrwacher’s first feature reveals another side: taking a small town as a microcosm of Berlusconi’s something-rotten-at-the-core Italy.
Rohrwacher sets her story in an unlovely, industrial corner of southern Italy where Marta, along with her mum and sister, has returned after living in Switzerland for ten years. They’re not religious, but Marta is sent to confirmation classes where the kids could not be less interested. Even the priest (Salvatore Cantalupo) looks bored. Thin-lipped and peevish, he’d rather be administering to souls in a bigger parish where he have a stab at promotion to bishop. He’s also involved in a shady scheme to sway votes in local elections.
Vianello gives a lovely, unforced performance as Marta, who begins to see that the blue-eyed, open-armed fuzzy Jesus she’s being sold is a fake. ‘Corpo Celeste’ might lack the subtlety of feeling of last year’s ‘Love Like Poison’, a similar-ish film by the young French director Katell Quillévéré. But it’s an accomplished debut: a coming-of-age for its director, perhaps, as much as Marta.