A Silly But Diverting Italian Debut

6 Min Read

To note that Gloria!, the directing debut of Italian actor-singer-songwriter Margherita Vicario, is vapid, pseudo-feminist, sentimental piffle would be entirely accurate. And yet, one must also admit that it is at least mildly entertaining piffle, absorbing in the same way that pop videos with lots of dancing and catchy tunes playing in the corner of a quiet bar or a nail salon on a weekday morning are entertaining. If you’re waiting for the polish to dry and can’t use your hands to use your phone, then staring blankly at Gloria! would suffice as a distraction. Alternatively, this is exactly the kind of film you might chance on while channel surfing in a European hotel and find yourself absorbed by, even though there are no subtitles. Indeed, subtitles are barely necessary here given the plot is much like a puppet show or the kind of fable children make up while playing with dolls.

The year is 1800, and the location for most of the film is the Sant’Ignazio Institute, a Church-run establishment that’s a kind of cross between an orphanage, a nunnery and a musical school for young women, not far from Venice. The most powerful person at Sant’Ignazio is the local chapel master Perlina (Paolo Rossi), an imperious conductor and sometime composer who leads the in-house all-female orchestra and choir. The ensemble performs at Mass for the pleasure of the local burghers and townsfolk, whose contributions to Sant’Ignazio are obviously vital to its existence.


The Bottom Line

Cinematic muzak.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Galatea Bellugi, Carlotta Gamba, Veronica Lucchesi, Maria Vittoria Dallasta, Sara Mafodda, Paolo Rossi, Elio, Natalino Balasso, Anita Kravos, Vincenzo Crea, Jasmin Mattei
Director: Margherita Vicario
Screenwriters: Anita Rivaroli, Margherita Vicario

1 hour 46 minutes

Somehow word of the orchestra’s excellence has reached the ears of the Vatican, and Perlina is informed that His Holiness Pope Pius VII will be visiting soon. Perlina must compose a new piece in the pontiff’s honor, even though he is profoundly blocked creatively and ends up dispatching his former lover (Vincent Crea) — Perlina is secretly gay — to find a ghost composer in Venice to write a suitably ecclesiastical piece for the performance.

Little does the chapel master realize, but there is abundant talent right here in Sant’Ignazio that he doesn’t even notice because of endemic misogyny. The orchestra’s first violin Lucia (Carlotta Gamba) composes herself and would love to contribute to the composition process. Perlina, however, ignores her offer of help. That just compounds her frustration with her confinement at Sant’Ignazio, and prompts her to seek solace and a means of escape in a romance with a well-born young man, which will obviously not end well.

Meanwhile, practically at the bottom of the institute’s pecking order is servant girl Teresa (Galatea Bellugi), who has been mute ever since a traumatic incident that is only explained at the end when it becomes dramatically useful. While cleaning the basement one day, Teresa discovers a pianoforte that had been given to Sant’Ignazio by a donor, a gift specifically for the women of the institute. Although no one has ever trained her, Teresa proves to be one of those musical prodigies that only exist in cinema. She teaches herself to play, and the sound attracts Lucia and three other musicians from the orchestra: orphan Bettina (Veronica Lucchesi), ingenue Marietta (Maria Vittoria Dallasta) and tall, well-born nice girl Prudenza (Sara Mafodda). Lucia and Teresa, who starts talking around this point, clash at first and must come to an agreement to share practice time on the piano, although the women grow to admire Teresa’s musical originality, which finds her basically inventing Italian power pop balladeering 150 years ahead of its time. If only electricity had been around, then she might have invented the synthesizer too!

The final musical climax in front of the Pope, wherein half the audience digs the ladies’ groovy sound and the other half are scandalized, is deeply silly but fun — as infectious as watching a performing arts school’s final-year show with a cast that all have mild COVID.

Full credits

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Galatea Bellugi, Carlotta Gamba, Veronica Lucchesi, Maria Vittoria Dallasta, Sara Mafodda, Paolo Rossi, Elio, Natalino Balasso, Anita Kravos, Vincenzo Crea, Jasmin Mattei
Production companies: Tempesta, Rai Cinema, Tellfilm
Director: Margherita Vicario
Screenwriters: Anita Rivaroli, Margherita Vicario
Producers: Valeria Jamonte, Manuela Melissano, Carlo Cresto-Dina
Executive producer: Alessio Lazzareschi
Director of photography: Gianluca Palma
Set designers:  Luca Servino, Susanna Abenavoli
Costume designer: Mary Montalto
Editor: Christian Marsiglia
Sound designer: Xavier Lavorel
Music: Margherita Vicario, Dade (Davide Pavanello)
Casting: Massimo Appolloni
Sales: Rai Cinema International

1 hour 46 minutes

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