I am neither Catholic nor by anyone's testimony a saint. Yet, I have long felt a certain sort of kinship with Francesca Cabrini, also called Mother Cabrini, the first U.S. citizen to be canonized a saint by the Catholic Church.
An Italian-American Catholic religious sister, Cabrini founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a religious institute that provided vital support to her fellow Italian immigrants to the United States. The youngest of 13 children of farmers Agostino Cabrini and Stella Oldini, she was one of only four to survive beyond adolescence. Born two months early, she was considered small and weak as a child and remained physically vulnerable throughout her life.
With her vulnerabilities, she would change the world.
As a paraplegic/double amputee living with spina bifida, I have often looked toward those role models of people who have lived with significant challenges yet changed the world in ways big and small. There is no question at all that that Cabrini was such a woman.
On March 8, 2024, International Women's Day, Alejandro Monteverde (Sound of Freedom) and Angel Studios unite once again to bring forth Cabrini's story in the feature film Cabrini, a film starring Cristiana Dell'Anna as the remarkable woman as she encounters resistance, sexism, and Anti-Italianism during the late 19th century.
As he did with last year's box-office hit Sound of Freedom, Monteverde has crafted a film that is both beautifully rendered and realistic in its presentation and storytelling. Cabrini captures Cabrini's journey from Italy to New York at the urging of Pope Leo XIII (Giancarlo Giannini) to begin her missionary work in the West rather than her desired Far East. Cabrini's journey as she first steps foot in America in 1889 and is greeted by disease, crime, and a seemingly overwhelming number of impoverished children living in the slums of New York. While herself experiencing poor health and having broken English, Cabrini's compassion and perseverance lead her to work with a hostile mayor (John Lithgow) to secure housing and healthcare for the most vulnerable.
She wouldn't stop there.
As is seemingly always true of films from Angel Studios, Cabrini magnificently weaves together elements of faith, the human condition, and absolute devotion. As Cabrini, Cristiana Dell'Anna offers an engaging, quietly charismatic performance of the first woman to be commissioned by the Pope for an overseas mission. Dell'Anna captures Cabrini's quiet vulnerability, lovingly illustrated yet never really talked about, and her passionate commitment to the welfare of women and children and those deemed most vulnerable. Cabrini avoids histrionics, rich emotional resonance feels honest and true and well-earned. Facing sexism and anti-Italian sentiment, Cabrini perservered and changed the community and the Church for the better.
While Dell'Anna is the heart and soul of Cabrini, the film's ensemble cast is exceptional including an always outstanding John Lithgow, who seriously makes every motion picture he does a better motion picture, David Morse as Archbishop Corrigan, and the sublimely majestic Giancarlo Giannini as Pope Leo XIII.
Lensing by Gorka Gomez Andreu is both beautiful yet uncompromising in capturing the often gritty nature of this story co-penned by Monteverde with Rod Barr. Original music by Gene Back immerses us in the film's deeply spiritual yet also richly human atmosphere. Kudos as well for Carlos Lagunas' production design, Alisha Silverstein's precise and period appropriate costume design, and the editing work of Brian Scofield.
One never quite knows what to expect from Angel Studios, yet whether exploring biblical exegesis or what it means to live a life of faith they've become synonymous with meaningful cinema rendered with love, care, and discipline. Cabrini is yet another fine example, a film about the woman canonized as the patron saint of immigrants in 1950 whose work continues to resonate around the globe even today.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic