Padre Pio on Screen: Unveiling the Saint’s Humanity amidst Spiritual Warfare

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In the newly launched film, the revered Italian friar confronts his inner demons, presenting aspects of his life that might astonish the audience.

This week marks the premiere of the eagerly anticipated movie ‘Padre Pio’, helmed and penned by Abel Ferrara, and featuring Shia LaBeouf in the titular role. The adult-rated film provides a glimpse into the renowned saint’s early twenties, a period fraught with anguish, confusion, and an overwhelming devotion to Christ.

Simultaneously, the film uncovers the harsh realities endured by the villagers in the vicinity of Pio’s monastery. It captures their struggle with the aftermath of the First World War, marked by hunger, a tragic loss of lives, and an insatiable yearning for societal reform and class parity.

Should you approach this film expecting a hagiographic portrayal of Padre Pio, you will indeed be taken aback. The film is undiluted in its depiction, mirroring societal struggles of the era, and the point Pio was at in his personal spiritual voyage during his early twenties.

Its adult rating is justified, owing to the inclusion of sexual content, violence, and strong language. In a conversation with Aleteia, LaBeouf, Brother Alex Rodriguez, and director-screenwriter, Abel Ferrara, candidly discussed the aspect of profanity, leading to a rather intriguing exchange.

In a deeply unsettling confessional scene, showcasing Padre Pio’s all too human side, he struggles to assign penance to a father harbouring inappropriate thoughts about his daughter. The visibly repulsed friar, in a fit of outrage, lets loose an occasional swear word. So, Brother Alex Rodriguez, well-versed with the Capuchin friar’s life, and LaBeouf pondered over the extent of authenticity of this depiction to the actual Padre Pio. The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Brother Alex: We know that there was a point in Pio’s life when he spoke of Satan or a demon appearing in the confessional as a tall man. That scene [from the movie] is based on that account [from Pio’s life], positing what might have occurred at that juncture when he was younger. …

The scene not only illustrates the temptation [of] despair that the devil inflicts on Pio … but [the temptation to believe that] there’s no end in sight to the war, no resolution to the suffering of the people in San Giovanni … The movie depicts Satan as the instigator of the challenges faced by both Pio and the inhabitants of San Giovanni … and hence, the scene portrays the relentless temptations and incessant onslaughts of the devil, along with Padre Pio’s human nature.

This is Abel’s way of portraying Padre Pio as a sinner striving for holiness. In his early 20s, he’s battling his own issues. He once wrote to his spiritual director about his struggle with lust, admitting to a lie, and having difficulty managing his temper. It’s all there.

Did he use swear words? We can’t confirm that. The focal point is the portrayal of Padre Pio’s humanity. I hope people accept it for what it is, realising that the path to sainthood isn’t without trials.

Shia LaBeouf: Catholicism is about absolute acceptance. It’s more than [mere] tolerance. It’s the belief that there’s no such thing as a flawless Christian. We’re all sinners before God … The perception that saints were moralistic, gentle [individuals] — that’s not who Pio was. That’s not what we know of him. The reality of the saints is that they were all sinners before achieving sainthood.

The expectation that we should depict Pio as a gentle, moralistic man … This was a soldier, a medic during World War I. He was exposed to countless atrocities, dealing with an Italian populace in the throes of war. The idea that his life was devoid of curse words is a utopian fantasy, far removed from the reality of his lived experience. He was on the front lines, at the heart of the action.

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