Magnificat (1993)

  |  Drama, History


Magnificat (1993) Poster

During the Middle Ages, a traveling executioner hires an apprentice to learn the finer points of torture and execution, and a young girl is given by her parents to a Catholic convent.


7/10
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3 April 2010 | Bunuel1976
7
| MAGNIFICAT (Pupi Avati, 1993) ***
Over these last 40 years, the directorial career of Pupi Avati has veered from intriguing Euro-Cult items, through broad comedies and elaborate epics, to perceptive family sagas; while I have been sufficiently impressed by the first type – especially THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS (1976) and ZEDER (1983) – frankly, I have little interest in the last. The second genre, then, I have yet to sample (although I do have a couple at my disposal) and the third I have only sampled with middling results. The title under review, then, also belongs with this batch; it had competed at the Cannes Film Festival and has, not undeservedly, been dubbed Avati's best by the "Film.tv.it" website. While celebrated East-European black-and-white epics like Andrei Tarkovsky's ANDREI RUBLEV (1966) and Frantisek Vlacil's MARKETA LAZAROVA (1967) have rightly given film critics the feeling that a 20th-Centruy movie camera had been dropped right into the Middle Ages, I am of the opinion that their 'color' counterparts could easily be Bertrand Tavernier's LA PASSION BEATRICE (1987) and, now, Avati's MAGNIFICAT. This holds true for the latter to the extent that it does not offer a conventional plot-line but rather follows – in stark, quasi-documentary fashion, complete with archaic and affected narration – the exploits of a disparate group of pilgrims during one particular Holy Week around 900 A.D. in the Tuscany region. We have a moribund ruler who travels with his bastard sons and latest companion to his final resting place on the river bank (being the burial site of his wife); a royal impregnated concubine (one of three such expecting women of the same monarch) seeks to give birth before the others, to a male heir and on Good Friday to boot – so that her 'son' (which, to her shock, turns out to be a girl) may become blessed with the gift of clairvoyance!; a newly-married couple lying in their bedchamber are spied upon by relatives and loudly cheered when the wedding vows are eventually consummated; a traveling executioner (his own partner-son having been put to death himself for raping a nun!) and his new apprentice, after accompanying a supposed wife-murderer on a three-day 'healing' trek that will confirm his guilt or proclaim his innocence, have to dispassionately perform their duty on him; a pious friar walks throughout the land, from convent to convent, collecting the names of those members of the fraternity that had passed away since he had last visited…but no one is there to record his own death in a maze of grottos!; and, finally, a 14-year old girl is treated as chattel (a bartered piece of merchandise) when she is offered to the Roman Catholic Church – by way of internment into a cliff-top abbey dedicated to the cult of Mary's Virginity – in return for a wheat-grinding apparatus!! Despite the relative distance with which Avati shoots these alternating threads (set to Riz Ortolani's remarkably subtle music score), the detail is often fascinating to look at; besides, it is significant to note how little these religious rites (the kissing of the Cross by the faithful on Good Friday) have changed despite the passage of many centuries.

P.S. I – For the record, thanks to yet another epic {sic} power cut that reigned supreme over the Maltese islands – smack in the middle of the Good Friday procession! – I had to watch this challenging but rewarding piece of work in the wee small hours of the morning i.e. around 02:00!!

P.S. II – By the way, my positive reaction to MAGNIFICAT has made me seek out immediately Avati's remaining three entries in my beloved horror genre, namely BALSAMUS, L'UOMO DI SATANA (1968), THOMAS......GLI INDEMONIATI (1970) and THE ARCANE ENCHANTER (1996); thankfully, it took me very little effort to track them all down!

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