It’s hard to square “The Cardboard Village” with the work of a man who’s had nearly 60 years behind the camera, as Ermanno Olmi’s return to fiction is a heavy-handed religious tale with all the nuance of a provincial church pageant. Philosophically a companion to “One Hundred Nails,” the pic aims to strip religion down to basic human precepts via an elderly priest shielding illegal immigrants, yet ham-fisted symbolism and atrocious dubbing leave “Cardboard” just soggy. Theatrical will be minimal, though surely it’s meant for TV anyway.
A frail priest (Michael Lonsdale) is traumatized when, with the collusion of the state and the sexton (Rutger Hauer), his church is closed. African refugees take shelter inside, erecting a cardboard village between the pews. Meanwhile, the sound of gunfire, helicopters and police outside suggest an Italian state even more into illegal alien bashing than the one currently in power. Refugees are stand-ins for Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene and Judas, ultra-obvious in both concept and execution. Neither Lonsdale nor Hauer acquit themselves with honors, though the hammy dubbed voices are partly to blame. Flat lensing makes the pic feel like a stage piece.