Small Body review – a sublimely shot parable of spiritual redemption | Film


Laura Samani’s debut feature is a movie folktale: hard, weathered and knotted, like a piece of driftwood. In north-east Italy at the beginning of the 20th century, a young woman called Agata (Celeste Cescutti) is in shock after the stillborn death of her first child. Her priest tells her that the child is now doomed to wander Limbo in eternity because the baby died before being baptised.

Agata is shown undergoing a folk redemption or healing ceremony on the beach, but for her it is clearly more like her own kind of desolate emotional funeral; yet Agata hears that there is a church somewhere to the north whose priest has the supernatural power to bring a dead child back to life for a single breath, enough for a baptism and to elevate its immortal soul. So Agata digs the baby up under cover of darkness and heads off with the tiny casket tied grimly on her back, like a pilgrim; she is befriended in the forest by the semi-feral Lynx (Ondina Quadri) who is to be her only friend on their desperately gruelling and dangerous journey.

There are some amazing scenes and locations in this film, which has the air of a magical parable, like something by Alice Rohrwacher; I thought there might even be a tiny touch of Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves. The ending is, arguably, broadly guessable and some have expressed their dissatisfaction with the way that it is presented. I myself found my own objections were more about the hallucination-visionary scenes underwater which have become a bit of a movie cliche. Yet Samani’s film-making language has consistency and urgency, and there is an interesting streak of atheism that goes alongside this movie’s spiritual aura.

Small Body is released on 8 April in cinemas.

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