This week sees the release of the much awaited film Padre Pio, directed and written by Abel Ferrara and starring Shia LaBeouf. The R-rated movie offers us a glimpse into the life of the much-loved saint during his early 20s, when he was experiencing suffering, confusion, and above all, passion for Christ.
However, in parallel to Pio’s own torment, the movie also allows us to witness the real suffering of the local villagers where Pio’s monastery was located. We can see their pain in trying to cope with the aftermath of World War I, when there was hunger, loss of human life, and a strong desire for change and class equality.
If you’re going to watch the movie and expect to see Padre Pio as a holy card figure, you’ll be in for a surprise. The film is raw. It is a reflection of the difficulties in society at the time, and where Pio was on his own spiritual journey during his early 20s.
It is R-rated for a reason, as there is some sexual content, violence, and expletives. And when Aleteia talked to LaBeouf, Brother Alex Rodriguez, and director and screenwriter, Abel Ferrara, the topic of cussing did come up, and the discussion was pretty fascinating.
In a disturbing confessional scene, in which we see Padre Pio’s very human side, he is unable to give a penance to a father who’s having some very perverted thoughts about his daughter. The visibly sickenedfriar, in his outrage, loses his temper and uses the odd cuss word. So Br. Alex Rodriguez, who has a deep knowledge of the Capuchin friar, and LaBeouf discussed to what extent this was true to Padre Pio himself. The interview is edited for clarity and length.
Brother Alex: What we know is that in the lifetime of Pio there is a moment that he talks about, at one time, Satan or a demon was in the confessional and appeared like a tall man. So that scene [from the movie] is based on that story [from Pio’s life, and is] put in the movie as what could have happened in that time-fame when he was younger. …
Now the scene of itself is showing not only the temptation [of] despair that the devil makes to Pio … but [the temptation to believe that] there’s no good end to the war, there’s no good end to the suffering of the people in San Giovanni … The movie is showing that Satan is the one influencing all of the difficulties that not only Pio is going through, but also the people of San Giovanni …. and so the scene is showing not only the continuous temptations and the continuous assaults of the devil, but also it’s showing Padre Pio’s humanity.
This is Abel’s way of showing that Padre Pio was, yes, he was holy, but he was also a sinner. This is in his early 20s, he’s going through his struggles. There’s a passage in one of Padre Pio’s letters to his spiritual director saying, I’m having difficulties with my passions, with lust, I lied one time as a priest. I’m having difficulties with my temper. It’s there.
Did he cuss? We don’t know at the time. We don’t know if he would have said something like that. The point of the matter is showing Padre Pio’s humanity. And I’m hoping people receive it as it is, because it’s showing that someone doesn’t become a saint easily.
Shia LaBeouf: Catholicism is full-blown acceptance. It’s not [mere] tolerance. It’s also the belief that there’s no such thing as a good Christian. We’re all sinners in the face of God … This idea that the saints were all these moralistic, soft [individuals] — that’s not what Pio was. It’s not the stories you hear of him. It’s not the reality of who these saints were, and there is no saint who wasn’t a sinner.
The idea that we’re meant to paint this very fly-on-the-wall depiction of Pio as this very moralistic, soft broodish kind of a man … This is a soldier, this is a medic in World War I. He saw all kinds of heinous realities, he was dealing with an Italian populace that was in the middle of war. The idea that there was no cursing involved is a fairy tale fantasy and not the reality of the man’s life. He was boots on the ground. He was front row.