If you go into this film thinking you're going to see a movie about the life of Saint Padre Pio, you will be roundly disappointed. Why director Abel Ferrara used the saint's name as the title of the film is just as confusing as the film itself.
The big news surrounding the film when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 2022, was the conversion of its star, Shia LaBeouf who plays Padre Pio, to Catholicism. Preparing for the role of the 20th Century's most popular saint, LaBeouf spent four months at a Capuchin friary and it changed his life. For this guy who had been in the news for his addiction and allegations of abuse, it was a turn-around to praise God for. LaBeouf spoke about his experience in an extensive interview with Bishop Barron.
Padre Pio arrives in theaters and video-on-demand on June 2nd. LaBeouf captures the struggles of the pre-stigmata period (at least as far as the film is concerned) of Padre Pio's life well. Saint Pio was tormented by the devil and physically attacked. He also had sexual temptations. Remarkable was his ability to see into another person's soul during confession. The scenes when Pio is literally fighting with Satan are emotionally charged but the conviction with which he calls out to the devil, "Say Christ is Lord!" gives one the confidence that God will protect this great friend of his.
Shia LaBeouf and Alexander Rodriguez in "Padre Pio." © 2022 Maze Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
However, these scenes run parallel to another story that viewers are left to figure out on their own. The film gives no historical context. The fact that the soldiers returning to San Giovanni Rotondo after war (but which one?) seem to arrive in the town around the same time as Padre Pio comes to the local Capuchin monastery are all that connect the two plot lines together.
A glimpse of an election ballot that says 1920 finally clues the audience in that the story is post-World War I. The landowners in San Giovanni Rotondo hold power, bolstered by the local Catholic parish. Yet, the people who lived in poverty started protesting their lot. The social unrest escalated when the growing group of socialists won a local election that was not respected by the wealthy landowners. Refusing to turn over power, violence ensued.
Ignazio Oliva and Shia LaBeouf in "Padre Pio." © 2022 Maze Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
One cannot help but think of the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capital after the 2020 election, even though this film was written before that event took place.
Besides the misleading nature of the film's title, other aspects of the movie also prove unappealing. The inconsistency of the accents being used by the actors is, at the very least, distracting. The jerky camera movements, a technique usually used to convey a sense of chaos, rather than serving the narrative, only makes one want to look away from the screen.
That the film gives the impression that Padre Pio's reception of the stigmata was even remotely connected with the massacre that happened on October 14, 1920, misrepresents the truth. Saint Pio received the wounds of Christ in August of 1918, a full two years before the violence that took the lives of 14 people erupted in San Giovanni Rotondo.
If you're looking for a movie that portrays the life of Padre Pio, try Padre Pio: Miracle Man, an Italian-made feature film or Saint Padre Pio Sanctus, a documentary about his life.