John Mulderig
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By John Mulderig/OSV News

NEW YORK. In 1946, less than 30 years after her death, aged 67, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini was canonized by Pope Pius XII. Four years later, she was named the patron saint of immigrants. To judge by the luminous profile “Cabrini” (PG-13, Angel Studios), however, she might just as easily be regarded as the patroness of the indomitable.

By combining visual craftsmanship with dramatic force and evoking a powerful performance from Cristiana Dell’Anna in the title role, director Alejandro Monteverde delivers a riveting retrospective. Despite the fact-based nature of the proceedings, moreover, Rod Barr’s script is infused with suspense simply because of the impossibly long odds its heroine repeatedly faces.

As the 1880s come to a close, the strong-willed superior is demonstrating her persistence by continuing to pester the Vatican for permission to achieve a cherished ambition. Despite chronic ill-health, she longs to bring the Lombardy-based missionary religious order she had helped to found at the beginning of the decade to China.

Exasperated by Cabrini’s tenacity, a cardinal tells her, “Stay where you belong, Mother.” Fat chance.

Fortunately, Pope Leo XIII (Giancarlo Giannini) proves more sympathetic. Instead of establishing an Asian mission, though, he directs Cabrini to minister to the impoverished Italian immigrants of New York City.

Thus Cabrini and a handful of her companions soon find themselves walking the mean streets of what was then Gotham’s most notorious slum, Five Points. Intent initially on reopening an abandoned orphanage in the area and later on building a hospital to serve the downtrodden community, Cabrini gets only tepid support from Archbishop Michael Corrigan (David Morse).

But she eventually gains more enthusiastic backing from New York Times reporter Theodore Calloway (Jeremy Bobb). Having been treated with respect and kindness by Cabrini, reformed local streetwalker Vittoria (Romana Maggiora Vergano) becomes both an avid fan and an active collaborator.

Cabrini has a powerful outright opponent in the Big Apple’s (fictional) Mayor Gould (John Lithgow), however. He embodies both the disdainful misogyny and rampant ethnic prejudice Cabrini had to overcome on her way to founding a charitable empire.

The work of cinematographer Gorka Gómez Andreu is chockablock with beautifully composed images. And Dell’Anna manages to convey a sense of Cabrini’s unshakable determination as well as a mysterious stateliness entirely free of self-importance. This fine portrait of the indefatigable foundress is worthy of her wide-ranging legacy — which is saying a great deal.

The film contains brief physical and gun violence, mature themes, including prostitution, and a single crass expression. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.

(John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter/X @JohnMulderig1.)

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