Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Of sinners and saints

The first time I’ve seen the miniseries, Lives of the Saints, was last year when CTV aired it after New Year’s Day. CTV aired it again this past Boxing Day. I liked it the first time and I watched it again the second time. I even told Mama to watch it and she asked me to tape it for her, which I did. My sister overheard us and got excited when she heard the title. “No, Lina, it’s not about the life of any saints. It’s just a title.”

“Santa Margarita is the saint of impossible causes. Men pray to her when they want to be forgiven. Women pray to her when they are going to have a baby,” so narrated Teresa Innocente (Sophia Loren) at the beginning of the movie.

Lives of the Saints is a complex personal story about an Italian-Canadian family with a dark secret that involves adultery, an unwanted child and a father’s shame, which clouds the lives of everyone around him.

This “culture of shame and guilt,” Ciccoritti (director) says, is something he found familiar.

“The Italian culture is very carnal,” he says. “It’s hot. It’s sweaty. You’re aware of your body all the time. It’s also steeped in the paganism of ancient Rome. Add Catholicism to that, with its body shame, and the fact that they use the body to celebrate and manifest every sin and joy the human body can go through, and you’ve got one big mess of a culture.”

Source :

Vito, the central character, was raised by his free-spirited mother, Cristina, and disciplinarian school teacher aunt, Teresa, in Italy. His father, Mario, had migrated to and owned a farm in Toronto, Canada. Cristina got pregnant by a white soldier with blue eyes. To escape the ridicule of neighbours, mother and son left. Cristina told her sister-in-law, Teresa, that they were going to Mario in Canada. But Teresa found out that Cristina was going to her soldier instead. Teresa cursed Cristina. While Cristina and little Vito was aboard the ship, she gave birth to a baby girl. Cristina died the next morning. Vito named the baby, Rita, after the saint in the book.

Back in Italy, when neighbours learned that Cristina was having a bastard baby, kids started teasing and bullying Vito. Out of concern for Vito, Teresa made him stay after school and read a story of one saint in the book, The Lives of the Saints. One story every afternoon, until the bullies were gone. When Vito left for Canada, Teresa gave him this book.

When Cristina died on the ship, the authorities contacted Mario to take the children with him. Mario had a hard time raising the (bastard) girl. Later, Teresa joined them in Canada to help raise the children. Mario had been angry at Rita all this time. She reminded him of Cristina’s infidelity. Rita grew up to be wayward and was later adopted by another family. Vito had a hard time accepting this because he had been the caregiver to his little sister. Vito was angry at his father for driving Rita away.

Warning: Spoiler ahead

When Rita was about 18 years old, Mario went to see her. He wanted to kill her, but instead, he killed himself infront of her. Vito, who had estranged himself from his father, came back home and was reunited with Rita, who had grown to be a beautiful, sensuous, free-spirited woman like her mother. And since then, Vito became obsessed with her and he re-assumed the role of her caregiver.

Meanwhile, Teresa told Rita who her real father was. Rita went to see him. Michael Bok, her real father, had a family of his own and Rita thought that he didn’t want anything to do with her. She was so messed up on the night that she met him. She came home and Vito tried to comfort her. They ended up sleeping together. Vito felt so guilty afterwards.

Rita later on made up with his father. Michael told his family about Rita and they forgave him. Rita went with Michael, who was an artist, on his tour and they went to Italy. Vito got jealous and followed them. Vito planned on killing Michael. He still saw himself as Rita’s caregiver and he thought that Michael would only break Rita’s heart. Teresa followed them there too. And she explained to Vito that she was raped by soldiers during the war and that she was Vito’s real mother, not Cristina. Her brother, Mario, took pity on her and to save her from disgrace, he and Cristina took Vito and raised him as their own son.

Now we realize that Vito and Rita were not blood relatives. But we didn’t know that when we watched them sleep together. We were thinking about incest, which was not the case.

In the end, Vito married his girlfriend, Kate and they had a son, whom they named Mario, after the father who was actually his uncle.

I noticed that Italian culture is quite similar to Filipino culture. Both cultures are prominently Catholics and yet we hear stories of betrayal, adultery, suicide, etc. I think the Filipino culture is also that of shame and guilt. I could relate to this as I have written in a previous post, “A Special Surprise.” Lives of the Saints could very well be about a Filipino family. We also hear stories where Filipino families curse each other and I think there have also been Filipino movies that have the same theme, in one way or another, as this one.

What I like about the story is that it has a universal theme. It could happen to any culture, not just that which has strong religious beliefs. The story was told in flashbacks. But in a way that makes you think rather than confuse you. I also like that in the end Vito was able to find it in his heart to forgive Mario and Teresa and that he was able to find a brotherly relationship with Rita again.

Lives of the Saints received strong reviews and high ratings.


earthember said...

Full of intense emotions and drama, my kind of show. Will check it out.


very good review of the film, gives me the urge to watch it!

stef said...

very nice review. i must say when i first saw the title i was misled into thinking the storyline was about actual saints (there's Alban Butler's famous book of course, Lives of the Saints, and i thought FINALLY! someone made a movie out of it!).... how wrong i was:D

Blackjack Games said...

What words... super, an excellent phrase