Move Over Godfather, Cabrini is the Italian Who Will Get the Business Done

A nun pulls her veil over her head
Cristiana Dell'Anna as FRANCESCA CABRINI

Angel Studios, notable distributor of THE CHOSEN series, presents CABRINI, a biopic about the Catholic missionary, Francesca Cabrini, who was declared a saint after her death. A nun with an incurable lung disease and a dogged spirit, Cabrini (Cristiana Dell'Anna) has big dreams of serving orphans in China. Instead, the pope redirects her energies to helping the Italian immigrants struggling to make ends meet in America.

Over to America she goes, accompanied by a band of stalwart nuns willing to endure less than ideal conditions to serve their fellow countrymen. The harsh conditions and unfriendly xenophobia the Italians have found in America have made them jaded, but Cabrini's determination and kindness eventually wins them over. But in order to sustain the mission, Cabrini will need to win over the prejudiced community who consider the Italians to be dirty, inferior rats and her to be a meddling troublemaker. 

A group of nuns greet a visitor
[Center] Cristiana Dell'Anna as FRANCESCA CABRINI
On paper, CABRINI seems ripe for sliding into caricature with tropes like courageous nuns, the prostitute with the heart of gold, the power-hungry mayor, and the reformed pickpocket orphans. But director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde (SOUND OF FREEDOM) pulls it together with solid writing and earnest performances. Cristiana Dell'Anna as Cabrini completely sells me on this role. Moving about with an air of grace and composure, she inspires others to keep going because she works harder than anyone else working under her, despite being sick. The lines of dialogue ring true between the characters and avoid sounding like over-dramatic soliloquies that often stain films claiming to empower women.

For CABRINI is very much a women's movie -- even released on International Women's Day. Cabrini faces a double dose of adversity because she is a woman – one who takes her vows seriously to be under the authority of the Catholic church. She must operate within the parameters set before her, but that doesn't mean Cabrini doesn't try to push the ones granting authority to expand those parameters.  Cabrini proves to be a formidable political mastermind, managing to overcome the barriers in her way. She learns what makes the players in this game tick and then uses it to win them over. Each step of the journey, she manages to scale a wall in front of her, only to find a larger obstacle on the other side. And while this often results in a somewhat predictable sequence of unfortunate events that never seems to end, Cabrini's courage inspires viewers to respect her and keep watching. Simple as the film may be, the message of faithful persistence for the sake of others is timeless. 

A nun faces a judge in a legal room
[Right] Cristiana Dell'Anna as FRANCESCA CABRINI

In addition to CABRINI's message of a seed of care reaping a big harvest and women having equal strength to men, Monteverde takes care to distinguish between true religion versus a religion based on self-promotion and safety. Much is made of her frenemy-ship with the local archbishop, played by David Morse (THE GREEN MILE). Perhaps at one time, Archbishop Corrigan held the same idealistic spirit as Cabrini, but his position and wealth has made him afraid to offend his parishioners. He tells Cabrini she can only collect money from the poor community she wants to help and not those with means. Cabrini's presence reminds him of everything he's not. The way Cabrini chips away at his defenses is one of the most rewarding parts of watching the film. Although she makes a difference, her greatest gift seems to be bringing people together for a common cause, including the archbishop. Ultimately Cabrini's legacy is not just her story, but the story of each person finding their own humanity in helping "the least of these." 

The film also serves as a love letter to Italian culture. As Cabrini's good deeds change the world around her, the Italian people begin to come together as a community rediscover their country's music. The movie even features a moving feature song called DARE TO BE, performed by father-daughter duo Andrea and Virginia Bocelli. I would predict that this song could become an Oscar nominee, except the movie world in general seems dead set against anything from the faith community getting recognized in awards chatter.

CABRINI is a gentle and empowering story about a woman who overcame all obstacles to accomplish the goals God placed in her heart. It's also a chilling reminder of how little has changed in how the general population regards and treats immigrants. 135 years after the time of Cabrini, much of the world's regard for immigrants remains just as unwelcoming as ever. The established Americans treat their new Italian neighbors like dogs. It's not until Cabrini reminds them of their own humble origins that their pride is diminished and their wallets opened. 

A nun in profile alongside an archbishop
[L-R] David Morse as ARCHBISHOP CORRIGAN, Cristiana Dell'Anna as CABRINI

I'm only sad that Monteverde missed an opportunity to have Cabrini cross paths with Vito Corleone, serving the Italian immigrants in his way.

Release: In theaters since March 8, 2024

Rating 3.5 out of 5