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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

Household Saints
Directed by Nancy Savoca
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment 9/93 DVD/VHS Feature Film
R - two scenes of sexuality

Read a teaching scene about miracles

One of the characters in Nancy Savoca's Household Saints says, "You think you know how the game is going but you never do. At any moment God can deal you a wild card!" In this deeply spiritual film, wild cards and wonders abound.

In 1949, Joseph Santangelo, a butcher, is playing pinochle with Lino, a radio repairman, and his son. The day is a scorcher. Lino wages his daughter Catherine's hand in marriage against a blast of cold air from Joseph's cooler. He loses, and shortly afterwards Catherine marries Joseph. She moves into his home which is run by his mother. A devout and superstitious Catholic, she talks to her dead husband and sees herself as an expert on religion as practiced in the old country. It takes every ounce of Catherine's moral fiber not to be gobbled up by her domineering mother-in-law.

In this mesmerizing film adapted by Nancy Savoca and Richard Guay from Francine Prose's 1980 novel, simple events and small things portend large meanings. A card game determines a woman's destiny. A turkey killed in front of a pregnant woman is seen as having the power to mark her child for life. A room full of flowers is viewed as a sign of resurrection.

After one miscarriage, Catherine gives birth to Teresa. Seven years later, this earnest little girl becomes convinced that she is meant to be a bride of Christ. After winning a high school essay contest, she is given "The Story of a Soul." Like St. Therese of Lisieux, the little flower of Jesus, Teresa dedicates herself to serving God in little ways.

However, her father refuses to let her enter a Carmelite convent. Teresa gives up her grand plan to be a nun, goes to college, and starts dating Leonard. One day while ironing his shirts, she has a vision of Christ who thanks her for "grooming one of my lambs." Later, Teresa tries to explain this miracle to Leonard and her parents, but they don't understand. They send her to a Catholic institution for having, as one nun puts it, "temporarily lost touch with what we call reality."

Household Saints ends with a wild card surprise that cannot be revealed. Suffice it to say, this offbeat and vibrantly emotional film is filled with wonderful performances by Lili Taylor, Vincent D'Onofrio, Judith Malina, and Tracey Ullman. God moves mysteriously in our lives to work miracles while we are dealing with such seemingly insignificant matters as sausages, card games, ironing, and scrubbing the floors.

 

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Reviews and database copyright 1970 2012
by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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