In the Italian provinces, the Virgin Mary appears to a directionless woman who tries to reject her commands in Gianni Zanasi’s unremarkable “Lucia’s Grace.” Perhaps it’s cynical to suggest, but the film’s Europa Cinema Label prize in Directors’ Fortnight says more about the movie’s expected chances at the box office, where its sunny and unchallenging cuteness will translate to robust sales, rather than any intrinsic cinematic merits. Lazily constructed and stocked with familiar caricatures, “Lucia’s Grace” can generously be called a pleasant comic bauble whose extremely mild ecological message will make multiplex audiences feel good without inspiring them to action.
It’s not easy for single mom Lucia (Alba Rohrwacher) to find regular employment as a surveyor, maybe because she’s a little too nervy and a little too honest. Brash local businessman Paolo (Giuseppe Battiston) hires her and assistant Fabio (Daniele De Angelis) to chart a pristine hilly landscape for an architecturally bold showpiece called The Wave, designed by arrogant architect Serra (Thomas Trabacchi). But the two surveyors realize the old maps were off and it will take a while to make accurate new ones.
Paolo’s not willing to delay things, so Lucia’s in a bind until, in the middle of the field, she sees the Virgin Mary (Hadas Yaron) who instructs her to build a church on the property. Naturally Lucia thinks she’s going mad, especially as the woman keeps popping up and no one else can see her, but the Madonna is nothing if not persistent, literally strong-arming Lucia into submission after she keeps resisting. The scenes are meant to be funny, which is likely the only way to play them, but Yaron, so good in “Fill the Void,” is a blank (presumably Zanasi directed her that way), and the verbal and physical tussles cause more eye-rolls than yucks.
Lucia tries to keep her visions quiet, but of course word leaks out due to her father, Giulio (Teco Celio), a recovering heroin addict, prompting religious looneys to descend on the property hoping to see the Virgin. Somewhere along the line the confused script decides that Mary isn’t really pushing to have a new church built, but rather to protect the land — Jesus’ mom is an environmentalist above all — yet the bigwigs aren’t willing to stop construction.
Also on hand is Lucia’s teenage daughter Rosa (Rosa Vannucci, uncannily resembling saints painted by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio), ensuring her mother retains moral responsibility; and Lucia’s ex Arturo (Elio Germano), presumably added to show that Lucia’s nervous energy is peanuts compared with his own. Or maybe it’s because women are fine for having visions and things, but when action is required, you need men around. Naturally, the Mother of God is hors catégorie.
Perhaps too many hands had a shot at the script, which lacks cohesion and plays too hard at being as blandly populist as possible. Shooting was largely done north of Rome in Lazio’s rich rolling terrain, and Vladan Radovic’s visuals are bright and generically attractive. Music, however, is clumsily inserted.