Cabrini – film review

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Drama, 140 mins, rated M

Cabrini is a film designed to inspire and instruct. Its messages of triumph over adversity and over the prevailing ‘system’ and power structures are potent and eloquent.

This is a powerful account of the life and work of Francesca Cabrini, a poor, but audacious Italian immigrant who became one of the great entrepreneurs of the 19th century, all in the name of helping the poor and disadvantaged in New York.

Performances by the leads and supports are strong and the depiction of the time and place effective and vivid.

Whilst this is a story of faith, it is also condemnatory to some extent of the established church system. Cabrini’s church superiors are variously sympathetic or oppositional depending on their rank – the lesser luminaries being particularly obstructive and nasty.

While after much argument and persuasion, Cabrini was allowed to proceed, it was often grudgingly or without material support. The power of men is always front and centre, be they clerical or civic and business ‘leaders’.

For many, the history of racist attitudes in the USA will be enlightening. White supremacism was as ugly in the Italian immigrant context as in that of the black slave trade and its contemporary iteration. In all cases, Mother Cabrini’s reaction was to focus on the task at hand.

She never allowed the ugliness of racism to stand in the way of her practical goals, which were doggedly aimed at improving the lives, living and working conditions of the poor, especially of women and children and Italian immigrant workers.

The indomitable Francesca Cabrini was born in northern Italy in 1850. Under instruction from the church and as an alternative to creating an educational and health focussed ministry around the world beginning in the east, she and six of her Missionary Sisters set off for New York City in 1889.

Despite her own poor health, barely any support from the Church and concerted efforts by New York’s political elite to sabotage her efforts, she persevered and succeeded – it’s a real against the odds story, bound to raise the spirits of its audience.

Over 34 years, Cabrini established an astonishing 67 hospitals, orphanages and schools.  And despite being told she wouldn’t live past the age of 35, she lived until 1917, dying at the age of 67.

Cabrini was canonised in 1946 by Pope Pius XII and became the first American citizen to be named a saint. She is known as the Patron Saint of Immigrants.

  • Directed by Alejandro Monteverde
  • Starring Cristiana Dell’Anna, John Lithgow, David Morse and Giancarlo Giannini

Thanks to Ned & Co for the opportunity to preview this film.