At its heart, Alejandro Monteverde’s ‘Cabrini’ is an underdog story. Underdog stories have always been inspiring and, in some way, life-affirming because they talk about a simple person doing larger-than-life things that have the ability to change the world. With this film, Monteverde takes a by-the-numbers look at the life of Frances Xavier Cabrini, also known as Mother Cabrini – an Italian nun and her tryst with helping the underprivileged. It’s a sprawling journey that he tells in the film, and while there are some very repetitive elements here and there, you can’t look away from this story of a woman’s fight for an empire of hope. 

For the uninitiated, Mother Cabrini dedicated a good chunk of her lifespan to building a better life for children and immigrants. Her achievements include Founding the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart group, expanding the congregation by establishing orphanages and schools in various parts of the US, improving the lives of the marginalized in whatever way possible, and building healthcare institutions from scratch for the people who couldn’t afford them. The film offers a glimpse of her achievements since its focus remains on charting her moving journey of getting to do those things. While it doesn’t have anything deeper than the Wikipedia page about Cabrini’s life, we get a look at her efforts to do something for others in spite of suffering from internal and external conflicts all the time.

The film begins by making us aware of her ailing health. It is established that she is not going to live for a long time, making her efforts to do things for others all the more palpable. While that is a very genuine trick used by filmmakers to make the overall impact feel more essential, the deliberation to show it now and again doesn’t bother the flow of the narrative. Consequently, the film follows Cabrini’s journey from the time she wanted to go to China in order to help the orphans but was diverted by the Pope to look beyond that and focus on Italian immigrants and their sorry living standards once they set foot on American soil.

A still from Cabrini (2024).
A still from Cabrini (2024).

The entire sequence is based in Five Points, and Mother Cabrini dragging herself to every possible place to raise funds for her enterprise makes for some of the best moments in the film. These sequences are moving, and director Monteverde is able to show this character as a resilient force to reckon with. Gorka Gómez Andreu’s gorgeous cinematography, which is always trying to find the light in the darkness is a great ally for telling this story. The film manages to always centre its lense on its leading character and what a captivating way it is for us to see this story unfold. 

The way Cristiana Dell’Anna plays Cabrini is astounding. Draped in a black cloak from head to toe, her posture and the way she keeps going in spite of hitting so many roadblocks make the film stand out, in spite of the generic trappings that Monteverde is unable to avoid. John Lithgow shows up as Mayor Gould somewhere in the last act of the film, and the writing just plummets to the ground. His character is so single faceted, archetype villainious that you are unable to take him seriously. The same can be said about all the other characters except Romana Maggiora Vergano’s rendition of Vittoria. If a little more gravitas was given to make these characters feel like they belong in the grand life of Cabrini, the film would have been a tab more effective. 

That said, Cabrini works because it professes a very small thing about love and education of the heart. If we, as humans, believed in it and tried playing it forward, there wouldn’t be any need to take a stand. Overall, this is a truly feminist tale where a woman fights for not just her right to do the greater good but also to do good for others. 

Read More: Corpus Christi [2019] – An Anatomy of Crime Joining with Religion

Cabrini (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Cabrini (2024) Movie Cast: Cristiana Dell’Anna, John Lithgow, David Morse, Romana Maggiora Vergano
Cabrini (2024) Movie Genre: Biography | Runtime: 2h 25 Mins

Where to watch Cabrini

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