Piccolo corpo (2021)
Directed by: Laura Samani | 89 minutes | drama | Actors: Celeste Cescutti, Ondina Quadric
“Will I see her again?” Agata, the lead actress in ‘Piccolo corpo’ (2021), asks a priest. The question is about her stillborn daughter, who, because she has not yet taken her first breath, is not allowed to bear a name and therefore cannot be baptized. Unbaptized children do not go to heaven, the dogma goes, but must roam eternally in Limbo. The priest’s answer is therefore ‘no’, Agata will not see her daughter again, even after her own death.
As far as Agata is concerned, this is not the end of the matter. After carrying the child in her womb for nine months, she now ties it in a box on her back and sets out on a journey through the countryside of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region to an unofficial sanctuary in the Dolomites. In a so-called respite chapel or sanctuaire à répit, the dead body of a child can be brought to life, for a brief moment, for a first breath, after which it can be baptized.
Such a haven for desperate parents, where a moment of postponement of death can be requested, are not the invention of debut director Laura Samani, but have been quite common in Europe since the Middle Ages. And even in 1900, the year in which the story of ‘Piccolo corpo’ takes place, they could still be found in France and the north of Italy.
It was the fathers who made a pilgrimage to these respite chapels, travel was a dangerous undertaking, especially for a woman alone. But Samani opts for a female perspective. Men play a secondary role in the story; rather they represent a passive and conservative force. Thus Agata’s husband resigns himself to the death of his daughter, the priest also remains stoic, and a group of men take Agata, who is after all on the road without a husband and is therefore suspicious, to sell her as a nurse (because of the mother’s milk). ).
In contrast, on her journey she meets a tough woman who leads a gang of robbers and frees her. She is medically cared for by wise herbal women (albeit in exchange for a large piece of her hair). And also Lynx, Agata’s boyish but helpful travel companion and guide, turns out to be a woman. Tellingly, Lynx’s father is not in the picture, but we only hear him screaming that he never wants to see his daughter (Lynx) again. Presumably because of this gender ambiguity and her free, wandering existence. That does not mean that these women are the most sympathetic figures in ‘Piccolo corpo’, but that they are the only ones who help her further.
Most of these characters are played by non-professional actors. The filming of Agata’s journey was chronological and Samani made use of the local population to fill the roles along the way. As a result, there is a kind of extra role for the many different local dialects that Italy has. This contributes to a sense of authenticity, but the lack of acting experience sometimes takes its revenge in dry and stiff playing.
Nevertheless, ‘Piccolo corpo’ is a gripping and, above all, exciting art-house film, which, thanks to the purposeful story and the enchanting images of the Italian landscape, drags you along to the magical end.