Chiara (2022)

Director: Susanna Nicchiarelli
Writer: Susanna Nicchiarelli
Cast: Margherita Mazzucco, Luigi Lo Cascio, Andrea Bruschi, Andrea Carpenzano, Paolo Briguglia, Carlotta Natoli, Mattia Napoli, Paola Tiziana Cruciani, Valentino Campitelli, Giulia Testa, Flaminia Mancin, Luigi Vestuto
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 25.10.2022

Inspired by Francesco of Assisi (Andrea Carpenzano), Chiara (Margherita Mazzucco) runs away from her wealthy family with her maid and friend Pacifica (Flaminia Mancin), cuts her hair and swears to live in poverty and humility. She quickly garners quite a following in her convent, especially after she heals a very sick child. She even gets a special permission from the pope to enjoy the privilege of poverty – a privilege that was limited to men until then. But as she gains popularity, friction with the church at large seem inevitable.

Chiara is an unusual film in many ways. Since Chiara obviously was an unusual woman, this seems only fitting, even as some of the film becomes a bit much.

The film poster showing Chiara (Margherita Mazzucco) with a black veil over her hair and something like a halo behind her.

The thing that works best about Chiara is the portrayal of the church and its politics. I know absolutely nothing about the Catholic church in the 13th century, but without feeling info-dumpy at all, Nicchiarelli succinctly explains the problems with Chiara’s position and the precarity and radicality of her convent. The things she achieved within that context are certainly very impressive.

That the film treats Chiara’s miracles as simple facts and reality, and Chiara herself generally as literally the saint the church will declare her to be, is an interesting choice. But it is one that makes it a little difficult for me, as an atheist, to empathize with Chiara all that much. I always felt like the film wanted me to worship her whereas I was more interested in her struggles.

Chiara (Margherita Mazzucco) smiling at the camera, a group of people behind her.

That there is actually not that much plot, despite the film spanning a period of 17 years, and that even that flimsy story is interrupted a couple of times with musical numbers, didn’t help with keeping my interest, I have to admit. Where the seemingly incongruous dance scene in Miss Marx was an act of liberation and my favorite moment in the entire film, in Chiara, Nicchiarelli doesn’t achieve that same magic with the musical interludes. They felt out of place for me and I didn’t connect with them emotionally.

Nevertheless, Chiara is a film with a lot of verve, some historically very accurate moments and some conscious deviations from accuracy that liven things up a little. It’s definitely worth seeing, especially if you have any interest in Catholic history. But Miss Marx is still better, I’m afraid.

Chiara (Margherita Mazzucco) hugging Francesco (Andrea Carpenzano).

Summarizing: not bad.

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