In the grand tradition of socially themed filmmaking, “Come Into the Light” is a no-frills retelling of the real-life story of Don Pino Puglisi, a Catholic priest who tried to get kids off the street in a Mafia-infested neighborhood of Palermo and was killed for his trouble. Film lacks a complex analysis of the Mafia phenomenon and is too predictably scripted to win major critical kudos; but its local potential should be boosted by Luca Zingaretti, Italian TV’s popular Commissioner Montalbano, in the main role. Strong theme could also draw the interest of fest programmers.
The simple but effective storytelling by veteran Roberto Faenza (“Take My Soul,” “Copkiller”) and pic’s classic good-versus-evil iconography have an uncluttered directness that appears aimed at general audiences. However the film’s unvarnished picture of lawlessness in 1993 Sicily, with old-style Mafiosi who make the Sopranos look like liberal sophisticates, is quite a shocker.
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Stomach-churning opening sequence dives into the heart of the problem: the bad education received by kids who grow up in Mafialand. Young boys are given boxes full of cats, which they gleefully feed to a kennel of ravenous dogs. Next, they cheer beside excited adults at a clandestine dogfight.
These lessons in wanton cruelty set the stage for the arrival of Don Pino (Zingaretti) as the new parish priest in the ill-famed Brancaccio quarter where he was born. His understanding of the social circumstances gives him an edge in relating to the local urchins. Little by little, he begins challenging people’s ideas that things can’t change.
The murders of Palermo’s famous Mafia investigators Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino shift the action into a climate of growing violence, and Don Pino’s sermons become more direct in condemning the mob. Surrounded by swarms of adoring children, he only half-conquers the area’s adult residents, a large number of whom are affiliated with organized crime. Tragic ending, though obviously known in advance, is so low-key it’s almost undramatic, but moving nonetheless.
Faenza’s self-effacing filmmaking style is echoed in the tech work, from Massimo Fiocchi’s fast but unostentatious editing to Andrea Guerra’s quiet musical themes.
The likeable Zingaretti portrays the parish priest as an unassuming everyday hero in paint-splattered work clothes, whose idealism, determination and simple goodness never waver. Saintly, too, is Sister Carolina (Alessia Goria), the youngest of three nuns sent to assist Don Pino, who seems to be constantly cradling a child in her arms.
Children are improbably shown as moving from unruly, foul-mouthed, cigarette-smoking car thieves to Don Pino converts, but many of the young thesps are surprisingly effective. Pierlorenzo Randazzo gives a noteworthy perf as a teenage boy whose conscience allows him no quarter.