Not of this World

When film critics trumpet some unheard-of foreign film while dismissing some mainstream hits, we get labeled pretentious arthouse types who are just trying to make the general public feel guilty about all the hughfalutin’ subtitled movies they’re not going out to see. Well get your insult book ready folks because I’m about to spring a real obscure one on you. It is called Not of this World, it hails from the country that brought us pizza pie and most of you, gentle readers, won’t ever get a chance to see it. But if it does come out near you, make like your mailman and don’t let hail, sleet or snow stop you from getting to the theater.

Not of this World stars the stunningly gorgeous Margherita Buy as Caterina, a young nun who finds a baby in a park, wrapped in a sweater. She takes the baby to a hospital and traces the sweater to a laundromat owner named Ernesto (Silvio Orlando). Ernesto is a lonely, uptight, all-work-and-no-play businessman. He tells Caterina that he loaned the sweater to Teresa, a former employee of his and never got it back.

Caterina and Ernesto track down Teresa and at one point, Caterina gets Ernesto to admit that he had an affair with Teresa and the baby might indeed be his. Caterina herself has developed a strange bond with the child and is somewhat loath to see him go away to an adoptive family. This all comes at a time when she must deal with her mother’s heart-breaking disappointment in her decision to become a nun. And Ernesto struggles to bring some meaning and vitality to his dull, joyless life, even if it means accepting paternal responsibility.

This is probably the first major Italian import since the terrific, Oscar-winning Life is Beautiful. And while Benigni’s lighthearted tragicomedy was a teriffic movie in its own right, Not of this World is better. It’s a quiet movie, a gently affecting story of the interrelationship of three very different people. It gets to you, though you may not realize it until after it’s over.

Ernesto is an exceedingly sad persona. Up until the end, he is in self-inflicted pain because of his inability to simply let go and unwind. He is a prime example of a man whom the world has defeated. He has surrendered and simply goes through life performing perfunctory tasks — nothing matters. Ernesto’s transformation is at the soul of the movie; in many ways, he is the protagonist. The sympathy the character elicits is facilitated immensely by the remarkable performance of Silvio Orlando. A veteran of Italian cinema, Orlando is pitch-perfect. His character is stuffy, but he makes Ernesto’s humanity gradually come to the surface.

Giuseppe Piccioni’s direction is reserved but assured. There aren’t any dramatic outbursts in Not of this World and no high-concept manipulative scenes either, so the movie relies on Piccioni’s able direction. It’s not spectacular — he doesn’t do anything particularly creative with the camera. But the movie manages to be consistently involving despite its extreme levelheadedness. Piccioni also inserts a poignant, extremely effective score that underscores the action and helps certain scenes stand out.

By the time the movie is over, the characters have all undergone a transformation. The last scene shows Ernesto indulgently eating chocolate. It’s one of the most uplifting scenes I’ve saw in 1999.

-- Eugene Novikov

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