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Not of This World (Fuori dal Mondo)
Director: Giuseppe Piccioni
Screenplay: Giuseppe Piccioni, Gualtiero Rosella, and Lucia Zei
Stars: Margherita Buy (Caterina), Silvio Orlando (Ernesto), Carolina Freschi (Teresa), Maria Cristina Minerva (Esmeralda), Sonia Gessner (Mother Superior), Giuliana Lojodice (Caterina's Mother)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2000
Country: Italy

What makes Giuseppe Piccioni's "Not of This World" ("Fuori dal Mondo") such an engaging, moving film is the way it develops its characters and alters our perception of them without our knowing it.

How we view the film's three central characters in the first half of the film is decidedly different from how we view them by the closing credits, yet there is no conscious moment we can point to where the tide changed for any of them. The narrative is so skillfully written and the characters are so perceptively portrayed that, when changes occur, they are so natural and subtle as to be almost invisible. As in life, change happens slowly and unconsciously, and it is not until the shift is already complete that we become aware of it.

"Not of This World" tells the story of Caterina (Margherita Buy), a nun who is months away from taking her perpetual vows, thus dedicating forever her life to God. While in Milan one day, a jogger hands her a five-day-old infant boy wrapped in a sweater. The jogger tells her he found the abandoned baby lying among the bushes. Caterina takes the baby to the hospital, and all she is left with is the sweater in which he was wrapped.

The sweater leads her to a laundromat run by Ernesto (Silvio Orlando), a small, unhappy, self-absorbed man who lacks the basic care of learning his employees' names. When first approached by Caterina, he is distant and offhand, too caught up in his own aimlessness to bother with her. However, it turns out that the sweater is his, so he obviously has a link to the baby. He tells Caterina he loaned the sweater to a young woman who used to work at the laundromat, and it is only later that we find out Ernesto spent the night with her and the baby might be his.

The young woman is 20-year-old Teresa (Carolina Freschi). Like Ernesto, she is aimless and lost in life, but hers is a more literal aimlessness as she moves from friend to friend for a couch to sleep on. She feels alienated from her parents and cannot turn to them for help. However, unlike Ernesto, she seems to have a spark of life, enough that she gets a job and becomes reinvolved with an old boyfriend.

Caterina and Ernesto come together in a combined effort to find Teresa, and over the course of the film they develop a complex relationship that begins to fulfill what has been missing in each of their lives. Of course, Caterina is a nun, and therefore she cannot become involved with a man, and it is a great credit to Piccioni's film that it does not try to force the issue, as a lesser film might do. Piccioni is interested in the choices these characters make and the process by which they come to their decisions. Nothing in life is simple, and Piccioni does not insult us with pat answers and easy solutions.

This extends to the climax which takes place at a wedding where Ernesto will find out if he is the father, Teresa will be forced to face up to her having deserted her infant son, and Caterina will finally make a decision about whether or not she will consecrate the rest of her life to the covenant. Piccioni and co-screenwriters Gualtiero Rosella and Lucia Zei find a way to conclude the film that is both satisfying and unsentimental.

However, the strongest aspect of "Not of This World" is the way Piccioni allows the characters to develop over the course of the film. This is especially true of Ernesto, whose first 10 minutes of screen time make him out to be a petty little man who is incapable of being close to anyone. Yet, as the film progresses, Ernesto is slowly and imperceptibly humanized, so that by the film's third act we understand why he is so unhappy and how that causes him to distance himself from others. He is not so much mean as he is in pain, and we understand how the prospect of his being a father has reawakened his humanity. Silvio Orlando, who looks like a combination of Kevin Spacey and Albert Brooks, has the physical features that perfectly convey Ernesto's transformation. His drawn face and small mouth can be both irritatingly terse and painfully sad, and on the rare occasion that he smiles his entire face comes alive.

Teresa seems the hardest character to redeem because she is saddled with having abandoned an infant, an anti-maternal act that many would brand inhuman. Yet, Teresa is also humanized through Piccioni's humane and decent camera lens, and we are allowed to see that leaving her son was not an easy decision for her to make, and she had reasons for doing so that make her actions seem less monstrous than pitiable.

And, at the center of the film is Margherita Buy's noble performance as Caterina, a strong, good-hearted woman who is standing at the threshold of making the most important decision of her life when the infant boy throws her whole worldview into doubt. Her faith that she belongs in the covenant, which had once been her security, is being tested by a newly surfaced maternal instinct. But, once again, Piccioni takes what could have been simplistic and demeaning in another's hands and turns it into an opportunity to explore the complexities of religion, motherhood, and the notion of lifelong dedication.

Films like "Not of This World" are rare. At the cynical end of the twentieth century, where irony and doubt rule the moral landscape, films that reassert the basic decency of ordinary people seems out of place. Yet, it is precisely this out-of-placeness that makes "Not of This World" so intriguing and involving. It slowly draws you in because its characters are real; they are flawed humans who make mistakes, but who underneath have good hearts.

The title "Not of This World" refers to how the three central characters feel about themselves--they have all lost something, and don't feel entirely grounded in their lives. By the end of the film, however, they have all found their humanity in one way or another, and it is a testament to Puccioni's humanistic worldview that the film ends with a series of cinematic portraits that assert, for once, all is right in the world.

Overall Rating: (3.5)

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