The Catholic School (2022): Review

If delving into the criminal mind is what characterizes true crime stories, ‘The Catholic School’ can hardly claim to be one. In fact, it’s difficult to decipher what exactly the film is when looking at the events prior to the actual crime’s reenactment. Stefano Mordini’s adaptation of Edoardo Albinati’s novel of the same name had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival last year and is now available for the public to watch on Netflix. It revolves around the lives of the perpetrators of a crime that shook Italy in 1975, known today as the Circeo massacre, and their peers.

‘The Catholic School’ is visually quite familiar. Set in the ’70s, it goes for the drab color palette with a heavy focus on shades of browns and a generally de-saturated look that has become characteristic of the period’s representation. It’s also an appropriate choice given the subject matter, thereby evading any stylistic flourishes. The theme, composed by Andrea Guerra, is one of the film’s strongest elements, a lush and terrifying piece that works because of a peculiarly discordant quality to its harmony. It heightens the suspense and has grating interjections that make it sound like something straight out of a slasher. Hence, the look and sound of the film ensure a period re-creation that is realistic and unsettling at the same time. The performances too are generally good, with two that especially stand out being Luca Vergoni’s maniacal turn as Angelo Izzo and Riccardo Scamarcio’s short but memorable role as Guido’s ruthless father, Raffaele.

That’s pretty much all that is positive in ‘The Catholic School’ as the film is incredibly disjointed. Prolonged looks at religion and social factors prove to be dead ends as the film relies too heavily on words and not actually depicting what is being talked about. The supposed stagnation of society at the time, a general sense of prevailing nihilism, and how incompetent the eponymous school and other such institutions of the period were, are only spoken about. What we see of them makes them come across as little more than humdrum places existing in a seemingly mundane world, with nothing shocking or dangerous about them. Edoardo’s friends are of no importance to the plot and yet keep showing up at regular intervals. Giacchino, a character with a definite moral compass, undergoes a family tragedy after which his entire subplot is abandoned while Argus’s family life is supposed to depict societal repression of the time, which it does a poor job with.

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We are made to follow everything that led to the Circeo massacre through the eyes of Edoardo, a fly-on-the-wall narrator. His narration, other than describing the film’s world, ruminates on Italian bourgeois society of the time. A number of philosophical observations, that are never pursued and generally have no connection with the action of the film, form a bulk of it. The problem, other than how pretentious it mostly sounds is that by the time we arrive at the film’s climax, it seems that all of what Edoardo said throughout the film had a thematic thread that was meant to help us decipher what caused the horrifying rape and torture of Donatella and Rosaria. Not every filmmaker can go for a Haneke-Esque exploration of evil but here, a certain resignation to abstraction would’ve been far more effective. Instead, there’s a deliberate effort at trying to trace sociological reasons behind the crime and never anything psychological. Interestingly, one of the characters in the film became a psychiatrist later in life but the only observation we get from him deals with characters other than the perpetrators.

the catholic school 2022

The film also withholds a lot of important information. Angelo Izzo and Andrea Ghira’s violent criminal past is entirely overlooked, the latter not even showing up till the film’s final act. Originally, both Donatella and Rosaria refused to have sex with the men, which incited violence. In the film, it’s such a sudden occurrence that at first, it’s hard to not think that Guido is joking with the girls. For all the digressions the plot is so readily willing to take, especially with regard to unimportant characters, these inconsistencies feel especially grave on the makers’ part.

‘The Catholic School’ is an adaptation of a novel, a tome, that too. Creative liberties are obvious and even necessary in such a case. Yet when it becomes a film, where the atrocities are being re-created and then put on screen for the world to watch, it becomes a fundamental responsibility on the part of the makers to transgress from the novel’s imagination in favor of a more honest portrayal of the truth. It isn’t a bad film but one that certainly feels misguided and which raises a question about what was Mordini’s intention, as well as of everyone else involved in its making – to adapt Albinati’s novel into a film or to sincerely depict this monstrous tragedy? If the intent was to do both, a certain mutual exclusivity in such an attempt surfaces that Mordini couldn’t surmount. What remains most affecting in ‘The Catholic School’ are the title cards at the end, highlighting the absurdly long period of time it took for the Italian government to even marginally alleviate the trauma of what had happened at Circeo.

The Catholic School (2022) Ending Explained

Raped and tortured to no end, Donatella and Rosaria are eventually numbed to the atrocities they’re being subjected to. It stops after Rosaria dies and Donatella plays dead in the hope of escaping getting violated further. When the boys realize that they’re both dead, they put the two bodies in the trunk of Guido’s father’s car. Andrea stays back to clean up the mess while Guido and Angelo go back to the city where they are to get rid of the bodies and then hang out with their friends. Once in Rome, Guido decides to head back home for a while as he had been doing throughout their enterprise, so as to not incur his father’s wrath.

Angelo is left with the car keys while Guido promises to join him around 3 at night. Angelo starts roaming around the neighborhood. When she is about to attempt an escape, Donatella finds out that Rosaria is dead and starts to bang the trunk, desperately hoping to be saved. A patrolling policeman hears this and calls reinforcements. When police officers arrive at Guido’s place, his father tells them that his son is sleeping in his room, only to discover that he has sneaked out. Donatella is saved, having incurred multiple serious injuries but even worse psychological damage. Title cards inform us of what happened with those involved, in the aftermath of the Circeo massacre, as well as how long it took for the Italian government to recognize rape as an offense against the individual and not public morality.

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The Catholic School (2022) Links: IMDb

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