A textured, quietly affecting drama about strangers who touch each other's lives in unexpected ways, "Not of This World" is the most accomplished work yet from Italian director Giuseppe Piccioni, whose films have been graced by a gentle approach and sensitive grasp of emotional issues.

A textured, quietly affecting drama about strangers who touch each other’s lives in unexpected ways, “Not of This World” is the most accomplished work yet from Italian director Giuseppe Piccioni, whose films have been graced by a gentle approach and sensitive grasp of emotional issues. Making resonant points about the doubts and disappointments that afflict everyday people, this story, centered on a nun who finds an abandoned baby, avoids easy sentiment in favor of poignant observation. A strategic festival launch could lead to scattered arthouse dates offshore.

A nun preparing to take perpetual vows, Caterina (Margherita Buy) is walking in a Milan park when a jogger hands her a newborn baby he found wrapped in a sweater. Delivering the infant to the authorities, Caterina is unable to ignore her maternal instinct for contact with the baby or her urge to find its mother.

A tag on the sweater leads her to Ernesto (Silvio Orlando), a disgruntled loner who runs a small dry-cleaning business. As an odd bond draws him closer to Caterina, he eventually confesses he may be the baby’s father.

The film follows twin paths, weighing the vocational uncertainty unleashed in Caterina and the total derailment of Ernesto’s sedentary life, transforming him from an ungiving man, completely closed in on himself, to a human being capable of seeking warmth and communication.

The story also observes the plight of the baby’s confused young mother, Teresa (Carolina Freschi), her detachment from her uncaring family, her quest to regain her equilibrium and her tentative first steps toward happiness, rekindling a past relationship with a good-natured policeman (Alessandro Di Natale).

What makes the drama so satisfying is its ability to creep swiftly under the skin, not just of its principal characters but of peripheral figures, constructing a richly compassionate human canvas. Despite occasional overwritten dialogue, the strong script by Piccioni, Gualtiero Rosella and Lucia Zei economically sketches the women employed at Ernesto’s store, the nuns in the convent with Caterina, her divorced mother and the nurses in the hospital where the baby is held, among others.

Buy — who starred in three of Piccioni’s four previous features — and Orlando have rarely been better. As Caterina, the actress plays her standard vulnerability and bottled-up nervousness against an understated serenity in keeping with the part, making the nun’s efforts to reconcile her conflicts extremely moving.

No stranger to playing this type of uptight loser, Orlando never pushes the harshness of Ernesto’s responses too far, keeping the audience on his side throughout the emotional journey. The supporting cast is strong, especially newcomers Freschi as Teresa and Maria Cristina Minerva as a doubt-plagued novice nun.

Enhancing an ostensibly intimate drama, the pic is arrestingly shot in widescreen and given a slightly grainy look, full of muted colors, by talented lenser Luca Bigazzi. Esmeralda Calabria’s editing keeps scenes short and to the point, and Ludovico Einaudi’s varied, seductively melodic score comments on the drama without becoming intrusive.

Not of This World

Italian

Production

A Mikado release (in Italy) of a Lumiere & Co. production, in association with RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana. (International sales: Intra Films, Rome.) Produced by Lionello Cerri. Executive producers, Cerri, Rossana Seregni. Directed by Giuseppe Piccioni. Screenplay, Piccioni, Gualtiero Rosella, Lucia Zei.

Crew

Camera (Cinecitta color, widescreen), Luca Bigazzi; editor, Esmeralda Calabria; music, Ludovico Einaudi; art director, Marco Belluzzi; costume designer, Carolina Olcese; sound (Dolby SR), Amedeo Casati; assistant director, Riccardo Cannone; casting, Beatrice Kruger. Reviewed at Quattro Fontane Cinema, Rome, March 23, 1999. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Caterina - Margherita Buy
Ernesto - Silvio Orlando
Teresa - Carolina Freschi
Esmeralda - Maria Cristina Minerva
Mother Superior - Sonia Gessner
Caterina's Mother - Giuliana Lojodice
Marina - Marina Massironi
With: Fabio Sartor, Alessando Di Natale,Riccardo Di Torrebruna, Stefano Abbati, Silvano Piccardi, Carlina Torta.
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