The successes of "Amour" and "Barbara" this season show that certain foreign pics can still penetrate domestic consciousness and commerce, and the French/Italian import "There Will Come a Day," with its resonant themes of spiritual yearning and warped religiosity, seems poised to follow suit.

The successes of “Amour” and “Barbara” this season show that certain foreign pics can still penetrate domestic consciousness and commerce, and the French/Italian import “There Will Come a Day,” with its resonant themes of spiritual yearning and warped religiosity, seems poised to follow suit. The fact that lead thesp Jasmine Trinca has a face worthy of Botticelli shouldn’t be underestimated, either, in a film that mixes the earthy and the ethereal to intoxicating effect. Arthouse play, at the very least, seems like a no-brainer.

Vet helmer Giorgio Diritti (“The Wind Blows Round,” “The Man Who Will Come”) has no fear of the astounding image; the opening shot is of a night sky with a half-moon, against which is superimposed the sonogram of a fetus. The baby will not survive. A woman is heard crying.

Augusta (Trinca), a thoughtful, intense young woman, is traveling by boat along the Amazon in Brazil, ministering to the “Indios” along with Sister Franca (Pia Engleberth), an Italian nun of the old-line Catholic stamp. Why does Franca care, Augusta asks, whether or not the Indios perform the sacraments of the Church, when they don’t understand what they’re doing? It is a bond with God, Franca says; understanding is irrelevant. Besides, there are more temporal matters to attend to (and more astounding Diritti imagery): Franca has a red lump on her shoulder, from which Augusta frees several squirming maggots. She then smears them against the side of the boat. It is routine, part of life on the river.

They are an odd couple, not destined to last. But what is, Augusta wonders. She has been abandoned by her husband because she cannot have children, and has left Italy for missionary work in search of answers. She’s a complex character, half firebrand, half penitent; Trinca’s face is an open book, providing a window onto a character in search of substance, including answers to why she has been exiled from life. Along the river, villages teem with children; she will have none. Those villages are also being taken over by evangelical ministers, who forbid Catholic missionaries to enter. Religions in conflict further alienate Augusta, as does the fact that the official Church is in bed with developers planning a vast hotel project that will provide 300 jobs, but no place for the locals to live.

Diritti addresses a number of topical issues, including the rise of Third World evangelism, the displacement of poor Brazilians (in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics), the ecological disasters brewing in the Amazon and the widening disparity between rich and poor. Augusta, who leaves Franca to live in a favela, works on a maintenance crew at a state-of-the-art health club, polishing the treadmills and ellipticals; nearby, her natives live in abject squalor.

Augusta, who dresses in man’s shorts, sneakers and shapeless T-shirts, is part of a lineage running back to St. Francis of Assisi, a tradition of self-denial in pursuit of epiphany. But there’s nothing ascetic about the pic’s visuals, which range from the sublime to the joyous: One of the more magical moments begins with an overview of a playing field, accompanied by absolute silence, shattered by Augusta playing her late father’s cymbals (which her mother has sent from Italy) and leading a crowd of delirious children across the field, and around the favela.

“There Will Come a Day” cuts now and then from Brazil to northern Italy, where Augusta’s mother, Anna (Anne Alvaro) waits at the convent from which Augusta and Franca have traveled, worrying about her daughter and tending to her own ailing mother (Sonia Gessner). She also wonders what will become of Augusta. When a tragedy strikes in the favela and its victim is sent to the convent, Anna steps up in a most profound way.

Tech credit are first-rate, especially the work of d.p. Roberto Cimatti, who captures in his camera a suggestion of divinity.

There Will Come a Day

Italy-France

Production

A Lionello Cerri/Giorgio Diritti/Simone Bachini presentation, in association with Valerio de Paolis, of an Aranciafilm/Lumiere and Co./Groupe Deux production, in association with Wild Bunch and Rai Cinema. (International sales: Elle Driver, Paris.) Produced by Lionello Cerri, Giorgio Diritti, Simone Bachini. Directed by Giorgio Diritti. Screenplay, Diritti, Fredo Valla, Tania Pedroni.

Crew

Camera (color), Roberto Cimatti; editor, Esmeralda Calabria; music, Marco Biscarini, Daniele Furlati; production designer, Jean-Luis Leblanc; sound (Dolby SRD), Carlo Missidenti; assistant director, Manuel Moruzzi, Janaina Cabello. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema, competing), Jan. 18, 2013. Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Jasmine Trinca, Anne Alvaro, Pia Engleberth, Sonia Gessner. (Italian dialogue)

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