Film Reviews

VITO BONAFACCI

By • May 19th, 2011 •

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Vito Bonafacci (Paul Borghese)–successful contractor, negligent Catholic–is driving away from his McMansion one morning, when he suffers a heart attack. His mother’s spirit (Emelise Aleandri), wearing the traditional black dress and veil of a little old Italian woman, comes to inform him that he is dead, and, because he’s paid too much attention to success in this World, and too little attention to God, he is headed straight for Hell. Fortunately for Vito, this turns out to be a nightmare, from which he awakes. Unfortunately, his mother’s hectoring continues.

As a result, Vito goes on a spiritual journey, trying to ferret out the meaning of life and death through conversations with his maid (Carin Mei), his wife (Tisha Tinsman), his gardener (Louis Vanaria) and others. The scenes in the beginning of the film are a series of dialectics. For example, Vito asks his maid Maria if she thinks he is a good person, which leads to a discussion of what “good” is; is it something that can only be decided in a context (relative) or is it a fixed value (absolute)? When his barber (Ralph Squillace) pays a house call, a discussion of the afterlife leads to consideration of life without an afterlife. From each conversation, Vito gets a different take on belief and what’s important in life, but none of the answers that he gets is sufficient to shut up the Mom’s nagging voice. Vito is not having a good day–he is having a spiritual crisis. Afraid to leave the house, lest his dream become a reality, he summons a priest (Father Richard Dellos, playing himself). Father Dellos arrives, and encourages Vito to confess and take communion right there at the house. And so, Vito’s spirit becomes whole again, and Mom can rest in peace.

First time filmmaker John Martoccia–who wrote, directed, and produced–says he made this film because he felt a calling to do so, and I believe him. He also says that the film is “a contemplative film challenging the viewer to reflect on life’s purpose and the afterlife, which in our complex and secularized culture, is oftentimes not pondered to any significant degree.” That sounds like an interesting premise. But if you look at my synopsis above, you’ll understand that that is not what this film does. It never really challenges Vito, or the audience, to go through any sort of a spiritual struggle, because what it says, in the end, is that if you return unquestioningly to the Catholic faith, then everything will be fine. There are no real stakes here; no risk has to be taken, no epiphany achieved in order for the character to find the answer.

In addition, the filmmaking is pretty static. The script is wooden; long scenes of didactic dialogue. These are intercut with weird, lengthy montages–the maid assembling a sumptuous breakfast, or Vito’s wife looking at herself in the mirror as she applies makeup (I thought maybe these were supposed to be indictments of the pleasures of the flesh, but was not at all sure). The filmmakers try to make up for the non-dramatic nature of the film by adding lots of music, but I found that suffocating, rather than enlightening.

The actors do have life, however; Paul Borghese gives Vito a sense of humor and a simmering frustration, and his conversations with Maria, his barber, and with his gardener (Louis Vanaria) are all made more human and complex by the actors’ interactions. A flashback of young Vito (Marcantonio Mei) and his boyhood priest (William Demeo) has nice warmth and contact.

There is also a neat montage of the fish in Vito’s aquarium. His fish are big, gorgeous, and carnivorous, and the camera captures them devouring the smaller fish that Vito is putting into their tank. Writing about that image now, it seems like the filmmakers ought to exploit it to say something about the meek versus the strong or something. But they don’t. It’s a compelling bit of film, but I am not sure why it is there.

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