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Cabrini (Christian Movie Review)

About the Film 

How can one person of faith offer hope and dignity to the oppressed, abused, and outcasts in society? Having explored this theme in 2023’s breakout hit film The Sound of Freedom, Director Alejandro Gómez Monteverde revisits this question in his follow-up movie from Angel Studios. The film is based on the true story of Francesca Cabrini, an Italian nun who confronted discrimination and sexism in order to care for immigrants in New York City. Although it often paints with broad brushstrokes rather than detailed nuance, Cabrini is visually gorgeous and emotionally moving, a powerful testimony of faith and hope put into action. The film is set for release on International Women’s Day, and anyone looking for a worthy representation of a powerful and resilient woman of faith need look no further.    

In the past, poorly made films created by or about people of faith were often excused due to their well-meaning message: “The movie may look like it was filmed by a child on an outdated camera, but it proclaims Jesus! Hallelujah!” Cabrini shows how far we’ve come. It is one of the most impressive looking films released in years. From the coloring to the framing to the camera movements, the scenes are elegantly composed. Faith-based films have long offered the True and the Good, but Cabrini also emphatically showcases the Beautiful.      

Cristiana Dell’Anna, whose prior experience consists primarily of international films, is dynamite in the central role of Francesca Cabrini. The script doesn’t always allow for dramatic range, but she subtly communicates the turmoil billowing behind her often-stoic expressions. The supporting cast is effective as well. There are no weak links, though few characters are given enough screen time to make a lasting impression.    

As I mentioned already, Cabrini is a film of epic and sweeping strokes rather than nuance. Thus, the characters are largely archetypes, not fully formed individuals. Each one falls into a simplistic category: the sexist males and selfless saints, the oppressed and the oppressors, the wholly good and the wholly evil, etc. As the audience, it’s easy to root for Cabrini, but it’s more difficult to know her. She is a selfless saint fighting a noble fight and inspiring others (in both the film and the audience) to join her. Her only weakness seems to be her constitution.  

Cabrini is essentially the cinematic equivalent to the viral “He Gets Us” ad campaign. Many of the same criticisms leveled at those advertisements—diminishing the divine and catering to modern sensibilities—are applicable here (see more below). Personally, though, I had a hard time feeling cynical about the story. Yes, it is simplistic. But so is Cabrini’s worldview: people are in need, so someone must help them. When she is told that she may have only a few years to live, she responds, “In that case, I should get to work.”   

Would it have been beneficial to explore the theological substance of her faith? Sure. Is the film intentionally inoffensive in a way that almost masks the spiritual elements? Perhaps. But at the end of the day, you are left with the story of an incredible woman of faith who felt compelled to be the loving hands and feet of Jesus. That’s the type of story Hollywood needs to tell more often.   

Cabrini can perhaps be understood as the other side of the coin from Martin Scorsese’s 2023 Academy Award-nominated film Killers of the Flower Moon. Both films are lengthy, sprawling epics that spotlight societal injustice. Whereas Scorsese’s film emphasizes the unrelenting sin and depravity that runs rampant in our broken world, Cabrini celebrates resilient efforts to shine a light into that darkness. The first asks audiences to open their eyes to the uncomfortable sights and sounds of a sinful world, while Cabrini challenges, “What will you do about it?” It’s a straightforward question, but often the simplest messages are the most impactful.

On the Surface

For Consideration

Beneath The Surface

Engage The Film

Faith and Deed     

On the surface, Cabrini’s message of “love in action” is easy to affirm. In fact, even non-religious audiences will find that the film resonates with many of today’s core values. But that accessibility comes with some trade-offs.  

Thematically, the film has much in common with the viral—and contentious—“He Gets Us” ad campaign. It often focuses on the material over the spiritual. While Cabrini’s faith clearly motivates her, it seems to manifest itself in good deeds rather than a theological understanding of Jesus (at least as it is portrayed in the film).

For example, a former prostitute who has just killed a man (in self-defense) laments, “There is not enough water in the world to make me clean.” Rather than pointing to God’s forgiveness, Cabrini instead focuses on the young lady’s strength as a “survivor.” Cabrini’s words are true (the young lady is a courageous survivor), but the moment feels incomplete.

Cabrini continues, “We don’t get to choose how we come into this world. But God gave us the freedom to choose how we live in it.” She emphasizes human action rather than submission to God. What washes a sinner clean is apparently the choice to do good rather than Christ’s death and resurrection. Near the end of the film, the Pope says to Cabrini, “I cannot tell where your faith ends and your ambition begins.” Indeed, the delineation between the two is often unclear, with Cabrini characterized as both a bold entrepreneur and a humble woman of faith.     

Cabrini positions its message in such a way that it is palatable for modern sensibilities, touching on popular narratives of oppression and feminism. It ends with a voiceover call to action, “What kind of world do we want? And what will we do to achieve it?” Yet, at times the film seems reluctant to explore the theological and religious underpinnings that motivate those actions. Jesus clearly called Christians to meet the material needs of others (Matthew 25:40), and the Bible urges believers to put their faith into action (James). But Jesus also said, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). He also asked, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” That is not to say the message of Cabrini is not powerful or biblical, only that it is incomplete. 

Stepping Out in Faith     

When questioned by the Pope about the viability of her ambitious plans for a network of orphanages and hospitals that span the globe, Cabrini responds, “Begin the mission and the means will come.” She repeats the refrain near the end of the movie, effectively bookending the film. Where others see the limitations, Cabrini trusts that God will provide for her regardless of what her critics say.    

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