Cabrini (2024)

Cabrini Review


There’s a memorable scene toward the end of “Mother Cabrini,” an impassioned, old-fashioned epic about the Italian Catholic missionary sister who not only opened an unparalleled orphanage in New York City in the early 20th century (and gave her name to Manhattan’s serene Cabrini Boulevard in Hudson Heights) but also tenaciously built a global network of charities and homes during the ensuing decades.

In this sequence, Francesca Cabrini played with quiet authority by a persuasive Cristiana Dell’Anna faces down and finally wins over the heretofore villainous and obstructive mayor of New York (John Lithgow as a fictional character), who agrees at last to support her cause. The two clink glasses in newfound understanding, Mayor Gould dropping on headstrong go-getter Cabrini, who works like a man and won’t take no for an answer, just about the most patriarchal observation possible: “It’s too bad you’re not a man. You would’ve been an excellent man,” he cluelessly says. To which she rightly notes that no man could do what she or her Sisters do.

How true this is of this admirable (though overlong) Great Woman biopic directed by Alejandro Monteverde, written by Rod Barr. Indeed the whole movie refreshingly so feels like it’s paying tribute to those particular powers of femininity when one is always being told that she can’t because she’s a girl, undermined and said no to again and again, well then yes naturally indeed all right fine absolutely certain one does acquire certain additional physical and emotional muscles out of men’s sight. That resolve sets Cabrini off in 1889 from here over there with these people through those places across from that other thing around under up against together behind ahead along etc.

Bringing herself (along with some other nuns appointed by Pope Leo XIII [Giancarlo Giannini]) to New York City in order to serve the Italian immigrant community which is so worn out in this sad old city of ours, Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing. The early cards tell us that circa “Gangs of New York” (which was only twenty years ago), NYC was not very nice to the Italians; also women had a tough time there; and children were dying because nobody cared about them but her. So against all odds (and ignoring her failing health), Francesca settles herself right quick fast in the heart of Lower Manhattan slums Five Points where she starts fighting a losing battle with every power under the sun that doesn’t want her or her people men or women or children around.

A lot of the film involves these false starts, which means we get to see over and over again exactly what kind of womanly stamina Cabrini talks about in that one scene with the mayor I mentioned earlier. Alongside Cabrini’s motley crew of supporters including kindly local priest Father Morelli (Gianpiero Judica) and precocious orphan/prostitute Romana Maggiora Vergano etc., “Cabrini” sometimes has a repetitive flavor due to all these endless ups and downs, across an unnecessary amount of filler runtime.

Still, his cinematographer Gorka Gómez Andreu and Monteverde make it visually pleasing. There are many beautifully thought-out compositions and classically grand lighting in “Cabrini” that shoots beams of lights and shadows through New York’s floor to ceiling windows, giving us the kind of middlebrow, big-screen period piece that used to crowd our theater screens every month just a few decades ago. These days, movies like “Cabrini” deserve commendation for simply being committed to a sumptuous cinematic palette and, well, looking like a movie. One sequence in particular when a group of kids sings Verdi’s “Va, pensiero” chorus to a famous Italian opera singer in order to beg for his high-profile support in their cause smacks of that old-fashioned movie flavor.

Alejandro Monteverde may have been on your radar last year because of the absurd and wildly controversial box office hit “Sound of Freedom.” Fortunately for us all, “Cabrini” does not come with any such controversy attached. Instead, it poses the question to its present-day audience: What kind of city/country/world would you want to live in one that is for only a select few or one founded on true equality? Cabrini and her Sisters were very much the latter type, erecting something that should be remembered as being equally as great (to paraphrase a journalist who portrays their work) as anything built by the Rockefellers or Vanderbilts. A far cry from perfect but never less than damn dignified, this is an imperfect film which still does justice to these unsung heroines.

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