LE PUPILLE – Review by Nadine Whitney

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

Directed by Alice Rohrwacher (Happy as Lazzaro) and produced by Alfonso Cuarón, Le Pupille reunites Rohrwacher with writer Carmela Covino and star of Happy as Lazzaro, Alba Rohrwacher. It is WWII and a group of orphans live in a ramshackle convent in Italy. The whole county is suffering a famine because of the war. The Church, usually able to depend on money from the faithful is facing poverty, and the hope of Madre Superiora Fioralba (Alice Rohrwacher) is that the annual Nativity Scene will bring in some much-needed funds.

Rohrwacher’s film is at once a delightful comedy that features a group of rowdy orphans, and also a sly dig at the absolutism of Catholic values. One particular orphan, Serafina (Melissa Flasconi) accidentally touches a radio playing war propaganda and it starts playing ‘Ba-ba-baciami piccina’ and the orphan girls, unsupervised for a moment, sing and dance along in glee. Serafina doesn’t sing, so when Fioralba is punishing the girls by washing their tongues with soap she proclaims her innocence. The ultra-strict Fioralba is not taking excuses and proclaims Serafina particularly wicked.

Serafina’s wickedness comes back to bite Fioralba when a rich and perhaps morally dubious woman brings a luscious Zuppa Inglese as a Nativity tribute to the bambinos to have them pray for her erstwhile lover (the set-up of the nativity is a comic enchantment but also rather telling of how the Church treat the orphans). The cake is indulgent in a way that the girls have never imagined. Fioralba decides to test the girls by asking them to sacrifice their portion of the cake for Jesus (really she wants to impress the Priest and give it to him). All the girls agree, reluctantly, to the sacrifice except Serafina who plainly says, “You said I was wicked.”

Rohrwacher’s short film is filled with childish naughtiness and glee. The orphans sing parts of the story directly to the audience. The cinematography by Hélène Louvart is, as always, divine. There is no moral to the story, the children sing, but perhaps there is. One can’t make up rules and define the young and not expect them to at some stage recognise the hypocrisy. Le Pupille is a wonderful tale that revels in the rebellious little girl who like Oliver Twist dares to ask for more.

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 0 Flares ×

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney is a seasoned film critic and scholar. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Nadine contributes regularly to FILMINK, The Curb, and Mr Movies Film Blog. She holds a degree in cinema theory and cultural studies. Her specialty is surrealism in cinema. She is as passionate about cats as she is about film. She is co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association and a member of FIPRESCI.