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MY MOTHER'S SMILE
aka THE RELIGION HOUR aka
L'ORA DI RELIGIONE: IL SORRISO DI MIA MADRE
USA: New Yorker Films
Cast: Sergio Castellitto, Jacqueline Lustig, Chiara Conti, Alberto Mondini, Gianni Schicchi, Maurizio Donadoni, Gigio Alberti, Bruno Cariello, Renzo Rossi, Piera Degli Esposti, Donato Placido, Gianfelice Imparato, Pietro De Silva, Toni Bertorelli
Director: Marco Bellocchio
Language: Italian (English subtitles)
USA: 102 mins
USA Release Date: 11 February 2005
As with his feature debut, FISTS IN THE POCKET, Marco Bellocchio's MY MOTHER'S SMILE was deemed blasphemous by the Roman Catholic Church for what the Church referred to as Bellocchio's "systematic destruction of family and religious values." Contrary to the Churches presumptions about Bellocchio, MY MOTHER'S SMILE is a fascinating portrait of a man (Sergio Castellitto as Ernesto) who is forced to reconcile with his own atheism after receiving a shocking appeal from the Church requesting his participation in the canonization of his "saintly" mother.
Ernesto is a successful painter/illustrator, recently separated from his wife, but entirely devoted to his impressionable young son, Leonardo. When Ernesto receives news from the mysterious Don Pugni, secretary to the equally enigmatic Cardinal Piumini, that the Vatican wants to anoint sainthood to his mother, he is stunned to discover that the beatification process has been under way for nearly three years. To his dismay, Ernesto quickly learns that his family, including his wife, one of his brothers and his covetous Aunt, has been quietly spearheading the campaign to canonize his mother behind his back. The family had feared that Ernesto's atheist conviction and his disdain for his dead mother would destroy any hope they had of winning the beautification and, more importantly, the individual rewards that each family member expects to gain from it. Adding to the perplexity of the situation, Ernesto discovers that his wife enrolled Leonardo in religion classes. The religion classes steer the boy into a growing obsession with God, inevitably forcing Ernesto to re-examine the merits of faith in contrast to his world as an artist and free atheist.
The Church supports the claim that Ernesto's mother held miraculous healing powers, but if she is going to be ordained, the Church needs to prove that her violent death, at the hands of the most unlikeliest person, culminated with a vow of forgiveness for her murderer. Ernesto's relationship to the murderer provides the Church with its last chance of uncovering the truth behind his mother's death, but Ernesto is reluctant to succumb to his family's pressure and schemes to make him take part in the beatification. In his heart, Ernesto doesn't believe his mother should be a saint, and he says so, much to the anger of the Church and his family - the mother he remembers bore a deep-seated cynicism and lack of affection. Overwhelmed by the fact that he didn't sense the conspiracy beneath him, the conflicts haunting him come to the fore and his memory of his mother (his mother's smile) opens up a gaping chasm that forces him to reconsider the past and live the present differently.