9 February 2007 | Bunuel1976
A VIRGIN NAMED MARY (Sergio Nasca, 1975) **1/2
I had never heard of this religious satire before but the blasphemous subject matter - worthy of Luis Bunuel and actually anticipating Jean-Luc Godard's HAIL MARY (1985) by a good 10 years - was enough to entice me. As it happens, the film itself wasn't half bad: indeed, it proved very interesting and quite entertaining (despite its inescapably low-brow nature).
As the title suggests, the film deals with a supposed Immaculate Conception in a remote and neglected Italian village peopled mainly by immigrants. The teenage girl in question (the actress herself, Cinzia De Carolis, actually ended up making pornos!) is prone to epileptic convulsions, during which she seems to be able to make predictions. Her poor but irresponsible mother turns this condition to her advantage by holding meetings in their house where the girl 'helps out' - through systematic electrocution! - anyone in the community who can afford to pay (the girl is asked to 'intercede' for the accomplishment of various needs such as marriage and housing, though occasionally her requests include murder and abortion).
The largely ungodly yet superstitious populace is turned upside down when the girl first ends up dead (she's actually only a victim of catalepsy) and then pregnant (which can't be explained initially as she never leaves her house). At this stage, the girl is revered as something of a saint and is even carried around on a pedestal - all of which confounds the flustered parish priest (who suddenly finds his previously empty church flourishing with 'customers') and angers an eccentric charlatan/bum - played by Leopoldo Trieste - who specializes in churning out love potions to the needy (who, conversely, sees his trade floundering and so opts to sell the village secret to the media for a measly sum). The latter is all too willing to partake in any momentary fad (unsurprisingly, the names of the companies involved are those of the 3 Magi); similarly, all the men in the village seem to be named after one of the apostles - and the girl is even married off to an old carpenter named Joseph!
Still, the girl comes up with quirks of her own - even wanting the people to start worshipping her rather than the other Mary! Called upon to explain the whole affair by his irate and patronizing superiors, the priest seeks advice from his former tutor (who no longer recognizes him, having become senile). In the end, it's discovered that an altar boy (the priest's mute and retarded nephew, who resorts to cracking nuts by means of a sacred cross utilized during mass) is the true father of the child, having taken advantage of the girl while comatose. The villagers, inflamed, stone her - with only a prostitute, aptly named Magdalene and played by Andrea Ferreol, standing up for the girl - and cause her to have a miscarriage. Soon, everyone goes back to their former lives, except for the priest who opts to abandon his vocation!