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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Cabrini (M) - 140 minutes

Based on fact, the story of Italian American nun Frances Xavier Cabrini, as told in Cabrini, is truly remarkable.


It is one of persistence, determination and disruption … and it is inspirational.


A sickly child with lung issues, she was given a short life expectancy.


And yet, despite her severe breathing issues, she took to her “mission” with, dare I say it, religious zeal.


In short, she wanted to tackle global poverty and homelessness.

To that end, although practicing in Italy, Mother Cabrini implored no less a figure than the Pope to help her address the poverty explosion in China.


Specifically, she had her eyes on Chinese children.


She had stated her case in writing no less than 11 times and she had been knocked back on every occasion.


But then she fronted the Pontiff (Giancarlo Giannini) directly and received the approval she sought on the proviso that she start in New York City.

So, with nothing to her name, she and five nuns who worked under her, packed their bags and landed in the most godforsaken place in The Big Apple – Five Points.


At the time, 1889, it was so disease-riddled, downtrodden and dangerous, police wouldn’t even venture there.


Between 1889 and 1910, more than two million Italians emigrated to the US.


They were desperately poor, often illiterate, and almost never spoke English.


Many Americans considered these Italians to be of inferior intelligence, only fit for manual labour, and a threat to the very fabric of the country.

So, what we see is the odds heavily stacked against Mother Cabrini every step along the way … and the impediments just keep on coming.


Nevertheless, with her back to the wall, she inevitably finds a way.


What shines through is her dogged work ethic and her indomitable and entrepreneurial spirit.


When she arrives, it is not as if the welcome mat is turned out for her and her wards.


She immediately encounters blatant racism and sexism.


The Archbishop (David Morse) is against her, the Mayor (John Lithgow) wants nothing to do with her … and on it goes.


But she simply won’t take “no” for an answer.

Establishing an orphanage is only the first step.


Before this is over, creating a new, cutting-edge hospital is also in her sights.


And with that comes yet more obstacles, this time ones that could break her for good.


Cabrini presents a compelling immigrant story.


Although clearly intended to be reverential (Frances Xavier Cabrini is, indeed, painted as a Saint, which is what she became), the production values are strong.


Italian actress Cristiana Dell'Anna is powerful and natural in the lead role. She commands attention in the way she goes about her business as Mother Cabrini.

Overall, notwithstanding the odd exception, the representation of the men she encounters is decidedly ugly.


They are painted as bigoted and/or bombastic. In old fashioned theatrical terms, you are left wanting to boo and hiss when the majority of them take to the stage.


Writer Rod Barr and director Alejandro Monteverde, who worked together on Sound of Freedom, have made it so.


Foremost amongst these hardheaded men is the Mayor, who John Lithgow realises as self-serving and downright nasty.


David Morse plays the Archbishop as somewhat more understanding, but on occasions deeply combative … and beholden to the Mayor.


This negative picture of men starts with Mother Cabrini’s arrival at the Vatican, when she confronts the Pope’s right-hand man.


He is the one who says aloud that there has never been an independent order of missionary women.

Cabrini’s conventional narrative structure is chronological, episodic and easy to follow.


In short, Mother Cabrini lurches from crisis to crisis in trying to achieve the seemingly impossible.


The period detail in the film, including the sets and costuming, is impressive. My praise extends to the lighting and sound.


Cabrini opened my eyes to the remarkable breakthroughs made by the woman who became the Patron Saint of Immigrants.


Rated M, it scores a 7½ out of 10.


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