LITTLE ROCK Restless Heart: The Confessions of St. Augustine is a condensed version of a 2010 Italian miniseries.
It’s a curious project, a Catholic feature that’s not quite of a piece with most faith-based productions, though it shares some of the earnestness of those churchy fables. It is quite obviously the product of a careful and devoted intelligence who cares more about Augustine than historical accuracy or the conventions of action movie making, although it genuflects in the direction of the Hollywood sword-and sandals epic.
In other words, it’s kind of an action movie, albeit one informed by, as the title suggests, the rhetoric of a saint.
It begins in A.D. 430, with a 70-year-old Augustine (Franco Nero) having to negotiate a peace with the Vandals who’ve laid siege to Hippo, the North African city of his bishopric. With the Vandals advancing, he tells his story to the captain ofthe Roman guards assigned to the garrison.
It immediately flashes back some 50 years, to the young Augustine (Alessandro Preziosi), a Roman subject living in Thagaste (in what is now Algeria), who’s preparing to leave to study in Carthage.
Augustine is a skilled and proud debater, capable of arguing and winning any side of an argument, and - having rejected his mother’s Christianity for the gnostic cult of Manichaeism - a pagan. This troubles mom (Monica Guerritore), who prays for him incessantly.
If you know the story of Augustine’s conversion - and there was a time when one might assume that the majority of people in a nation that’s so dominated by Christian religion as the United States would be familiar with it - you know what comes next.
Unfortunately, an action movie is not the best way to communicate either the subtle beauty of Augustine’s writing or the nuances of his life. There’s no way the film could retain any sort of commercial viability without becoming a kind of Augustine for Dummies - and I’m afraid that’s exactly what this one devolves to.
It’s understandable - this film is probably best received as a teaching aid, and I imagine that Ignatius Press, the Catholic publishing house that is making this movie available in unorthodox ways (the Little Rock run was set up locally, not through a film distributor), intends it as just that. And it’s a serviceable introduction to an important saint’s life and legend.
And I suspect the original Italian television production had somewhat different aims, putting it somewhat at cross-purposes with its U.S.
French Canadian director Christian Duguay is a reliable yeoman, and soit’s hardly surprising that production values are high cable movie quality - the acting is generally quite good and the cinematography is excellent. Some will be relieved that there are no subtitles - during production, alternate scenes were shot in English with an eye to eventual U.S. distribution.
Still, I suspect most scenes were dubbed anyway (probably by the original actors) because of a slight imperfection in the syncing. While I wish they’d just subtitled it, it’s only mildly distracting.
And, as always, we would remind our readers that those who get their history from the movies get the history they deserve - still, if Restless Heart causes people to Google terms like “Manichaeism” and the “Donatist schism,” we might count that as an aggregate good.
Restless Heart: The Confessions of St. Augustine 85
Alessandro Preziosi, Franco Nero, Cesare Bocci, Aglaia Szyszkowitz, Monica Guerritore, Cosimo Fusco
MovieStyle, Pages 35 on 11/02/2012
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