Padre Pio - Miracle Man Review

A car drives slowly through the night with a single priest (Jürgen Prochnow) in the back seat. Arriving at a hospital, he excuses himself as he passes through the crowd holding vigil on its steps and enters the doors of the building, closing them quietly behind him. Outside of a heavy wooden door, he waits to be greeted by the friars within, who, at first, refused him permission to pass on his best wishes to the patient within. Eventually, though, word is passed out, he may enter and stepping around the friars, he enters a small, plainly decorated room where, on a chair, breathing heavily sits the figure of Francesco Forgione, or Padre Pio da Pietrelcina (Sergio Castellitto).

Knowing that he is dying, Padre Pio sits silently praying to God but the visiting priest interrupts him, sitting down opposite him and demanding that, in his final hours, Padre Pio tell the truth. Dismissing Pio as leaving nothing but fifty years of medieval ways, the friar is saddened by the affairs of the church, hearing, "The Church doesn't need people like you!" The hour of his passing close at hand, Pio says, "But I need the Church...I don't want to die like this...rejected!" As the priest once again demands of Padre Pio that he tell the truth, Pio looks into his eyes, quickly recalls his life and all that he has failed to understand about his relationship with God. "I'm a mystery even to myself, you know."

Opening in 1968 shortly before Padre Pio died, this Italian mini-series from 2002 is structured as a flashback, with the life of Padre Pio being explored as he confesses mere hours before his death in 1968 in San Giovanni Rotondo. When he describes himself as a mystery in the opening minutes of this feature, unable even to know himself, it is a fair reflection of what follows with three ages of Padre Pio over three hours never quite offering an answer to the question of who he was or how, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, he would later be beatified and then canonised as Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.

And yet, as much as this structure is a Hollywood cliche, there is sympathy in its methods for the life of Padre Pio. Born on 25 May 1887, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina lived through most of the twentieth century in an age when miracles were often dismissed through the advancement of science. Each passing year, for example, brought with it an explanation for the parting of the waters of the Red Sea from the book of Exodus, the final resting place of Noah's Ark of the whereabouts of the Tower of Babel. But in that age, the miracles that were recorded in the life of Padre Pio divided opinion. Those who looked for pragmatism within the Church saw him, as Jürgen Prochnow does here, as a relic of the medieval worries about witchcraft, heresy and devilry. The cries from outside San Giovanni Rotondo selling photographs of Padre Pio for 100 lire are a variant of the time, hundreds of years before, when the Catholic Church were active sellers of holy relics, which were, in the most part, nothing of the sort, to raise funds.

Something of that time even lingers now with possessions of the saint being passed between families as hopes turn to miracles in times of sickness and loss. To the faithful, Padre Pio became a figure of the power of God even in these modern times with his stigmata being seen as evidence of his being blessed by God. Add to that stories of bilocatism, or the being in two places at once, his telling the future and his ability to cure the sick, either medically or spiritually, and it's little wonder that Padre Pio became a figure for believers to look to as proof of God's will on Earth. Even as controversy surrounded him after his death when his hands were found not to have any evidence of stigmatic wounds, the faithful announced it as yet another miracle.

Following his death, the Catholic Church moved quickly, or as quickly as they ever do, through the process of canonisation so to declare Padre Pio a saint. There was, it is worth saying, some history in that, with in 1962, Karol Wojtyla, who would later become Pope John Paul II, visiting Padre Pio, something that is included here. But even with that in mind, the twenty years that it took from the opening of an investigation into whether Padre Pio should be considered a saint to his canonisation in 2002 is remarkably short by papal standards. Certainly, there are those in this life whose opinions I trust wholeheartedly who, on a visit to the house in which Pio was born, smelled roses where others could not. Only later did they learn that the blood from Pio's stigmata was reputed to smell of flowers.

The truth? Perhaps or perhaps not but, like this feature, there's some room for doubt as regards the miracles of Padre Pio. Certainly, and in spite of the title, we never see any such miracles taking place, with it being implied that God works through Pio more than him being personally responsible for them. The saving of the soul of Emanuele Brunatto (Pierfrancesco Favino), for example, comes about as a result of Pio simply sending him away whereupon guilt over his actions forces him to seek forgiveness from God. Any knowledge of the future appears to come through dreams such as Pio's warning of Cleonice (Lorenza Indovina) about a job that he feels she ought not to take. Even the words that he offers his worried parishioners during the times of war are not those of a miracle-worker but of a priest simply consoling those in his congregation.

With that in mind, this is a much, much better mini-series than St Francis, which was also released by Noshame on the same day. Where that feature was often hysterical over its treatment of the saint, leaving him with little humour, there's much humanity in the treatment of Padre Pio. When word comes, during the Second World War, or a bomb falling on Foggia and not exploding, after which a crowd gathered around a picture of Padre Pio, Pio himself says, "No big deal then...all's well that ends well, isn't it? I should get a picture of this Padre Pio guy for myself!" Very well made and with a subtlety that's often lacking in religious features, this is a vibrant, soulful work that stands comparison to a more familiar series like Jesus of Nazereth. With some wonderful moments scattered amongst the usually straightforward telling of the life of Padre Pio - the ending to Part One of this series is particularly great - this often shows a simple man who is more confused by the controversy that surrounds him than who is appreciative of it. It's that sense of the humanness of the character of Padre Pio that is this feature's main asset and the reason that, regardless of whether or not you believe in the miracles attributed to Padre Pio, this is worth your time. The use of Miracle Man in the title does rather overstate the case somewhat but look past that and Padre Pio is a level-headed and often touching look back at the life of one of the most important figures in the Catholic Church in the last century.


Non-anamorphic and with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, this suffers from having a running time of 214 minutes and being squeezed onto a single disc. There's a noticeable amount of digital noise in the picture and the detail in the picture has been reduced such that faces lose a good deal of their expressiveness. Of course, one suspects that Noshame probably didn't consider Padre Pio a premium release and so thought a second disc unnecessary. Given the shocking look of the various religious channels on digital satellite, they may well be correct but there is some beautiful imagery in this that has gotten lost in the poor quality of the image on this DVD. The DD2.0 Mono is, however, very acceptable with good staging of the dialogue and audio effects, particularly in the dense collage of sounds that accompanies the devil's visitations to Pio.


The only bonus material on the disc is a Stills Gallery (1m44s) but the accompanying and very comprehensive booklet makes up for it. Containing not only an essay on Padre Pio and the filmmakers but also two addresses given by Pope John Paul II on the occasions of the canonisation of Padre Pio as St Pio of Pietrelcina in June 2002.


Something of a companion piece to St Francis, this is a much better feature entirely, with humour, a clearer sense of history and an obvious love of its main character. It remains, however, something of a niche release and though there's probably much for lapsed and non-Catholics to enjoy, it will, I suspect, be a feature that will appeal in the main to those with something of an interest in the life of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:47:28

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