Corpo Celeste Review

A young girl’s coming of age in a small Southern Italian village in Corpo Celeste, a debut feature from writer-director Alice Rohrwacher.

Southern Italy. Marta (Yle Vianello), just about to turn thirteen, moves with her mother to a small village right at the tip of the country’s “boot”. Having spent the past decade in Switzerland, Marta immediately feels out of place. Sent to a catechism class to prepare for her first confirmation – and so that she can make friends her own age – Marta soon finds herself at odds with the strong Catholic traditions that dominate the town.

Corpo Celeste, a debut dramatic feature written and directed by Alice Rohrwacher, treads a familiar path, but does so with enough sensitivity and insight to make the journey worthwhile. As with first novels, so with first films: it’s easy, though not always wise, to sense the tang of autobiography in this film directed by a woman and centred on a young girl. That may be because many of Marta’s experiences are easily recognisable ones. Along with the process of coming to not just a new town but a new country as well, we have conflicts brought about by religion. Add to that another rite of passage, namely puberty and the bodily changes it brings. Rohrwacher’s touch is less sure in the scenes with the local church, where it is a little too obvious where her sympathies lie. With its grainy handheld camerawork and its use of non-professionals for some of the cast including the lead actress, Corpo Celeste shows its writer-director’s documentary roots and harks back to the Italian neo-realists of the 1940s and contemporary filmmakers such as the Dardenne Brothers.

This is a “small” film, one of pinpoint observations, character-led with a suitably open ending. It’s unassuming enough that some will pass it by, but if you are likely to be engaged by a small-scale story of an adolescent girl’s coming of age, then Corpo Celeste is recommended.


Corpo Celeste is released on DVD only by Artificial Eye. The disc is dual-layered and encoded for Region 2.

The picture is transferred in the correct ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The film was shot in 16mm, so it is inevitably softer and grainier than one originated on 35mm would be. Colours are generally muted and shadow detail is a little lacking, but I didn’t see this film in a cinema and can’t doubt that this is how the film is intended to look.

The soundtrack is available in either Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround (2.0). There’s not much to choose between them. The 5.1 is a little brighter and the 2.0 a little warmer, so the choice is yours. Either way, the surrounds are used mainly for ambience. The dialogue is in Italian throughout. Unusually for an Artificial Eye DVD, the English subtitles are not optional but are fixed.

The main extra is an interview with Alice Rohrwacher and producer Carlo Cresto-Dina (40:45). The questions are asked in English and Cresto-Dina speaks in English and Rohrwacher in Italian with the contributions of the interpreter obviously edited out. This covers a fair amount of ground, including the director’s documentary-like style and the challenges of filming in such a small out-of-the-way village in the winter. There is something odd about this interview, which may be corrected on the retail version (this review was from a checkdisc): it is filmed in 4:3 but it looks like the anamorphic flag has been activated in error, stretching both interviewees horizontally unless you manually correct the ratio on your TV set. Also, the extracts from Corpo Celeste are noticeably louder than the interview which includes them.

Also on the disc is the theatrical trailer (1:37) which is presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1.


Updated: Oct 06, 2012

Get involved
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum
Corpo Celeste Review | The Digital Fix