Catholic-ometer: 3 of 5
Enjoyability: 4 of 5
Recently, our current pope, Pope Benedict, saw this movie and said that it was "beautiful." While you'll never find me disagreeing with his holiness on any matter of Catholic Doctrine, or on the beauty of this movie, I don't feel it would be right of me to reccomend it.
To start with, I feel I should point out the first and most glaring flaw of this movie; it's about as faithful in depicting the events of Bakhita's life as "the Neverending Story; Part 2" was in depicting the events of the second half of the book it was based on. In fact, I'd say this movie bares much in common with your typical, Hollywood, book-to-movie transition, in that virtually nothing of the original story survives, except the name of the main character.
In this movie, Bakhita is kidnapped by slavers when she's young, raised as a slave by a rich, african slave-trader, and kept until rebels attack. An italian named Federico Marin saves her from the rebels and takes her to Italy as his own slave, where she becomes the nanny of his daughter; Aurora.
In reality, the slavers who kidnapped Bakhita was arabs; not africans, and they forced her to convert to Islam when they enslaved her. She had several "masters" in Africa; not one, and the rich italian was her fifth "master;" not her second. Furthermore, his name was Callisto Legnani, not Marin, and she was given by him as a gift to the wife of another man; named Augusto Michieli. It was Michieli's daughter Alice; not Aurora, who Bakhita became the nanny of, and they didn't spend all their time in Italy. They went back to the Sudan together for a while.
In the movie, Marin lost his wife while she was giving birth to Aurora, and bore an old wound from his loss. Bakhita eventually ran away from him and sought shelter in a church, where she first learned about Jesus, and was given sanctuary, eventually, by the Canossian sisters.
In reality, Michieli and his wife were both alive, and both together, when Bakhita entered their household. They bought a hotel at Suakin; the largest port of the Sudan at the time, and left to manage it, leaving Bakhita and Alice in the care of the Canossian sisters.
In the movie, Bakhita spends a long time in Marin's village, caring for sick people during a smallpox epidemic, in a Mother Theresa-like way. She's eventually offered a free ride to Venice by Marin, and eventually accepts, once the epidemic is over. Once there, however, she decides to become a Canossian sister, instead of rejoining Marin and his family. Marin raises a fuss about it in the courts, but they decide in her favor.
In reality, Bakhita spent no time caring for smallpox victims before deciding to become a nun, though there was a legal battle with Michieli, which was eventually decided in her favor.
At this point, the movie pretty much ends. Marin turns over a new leaf, and makes peace with being forced to leave Bakhita behind, which could well have happened to Michieli as well, though we can't know for certain. In reality, many more things happened to Bakhita while she was a sister, but that's a story for another time.
I just don't see the point of changing so much about the life story of such a great person. I mean, she's already canonized. This movie's lies can be found out by five minutes on wikipedia, and won't do much to prop up her entry in the anals of hagiography, simply because they are, of course, lies.
There's a strong sense that this film made such an effort to reconstruct Bakhita's life out of wholecloth, just so that it could promote the agendas of those who funded its production, though again, I can't prove anything. I will say, however, that the total removal of the forced Islamic conversion from the movie seems suspiciously like a direct injustice to a very saintly woman, just to "keep muslims happy." Furthermore, there's a scene at the beginning, dwelled on much too strongly throughout the film, in which a witchdoctor proclaims that she's "lucky," almost as though the film was attempting to encourage non-Catholic superstitions. Lastly, the whole smallpox subplot seems to have been inserted, as if to remind everyone of the church's role in social wellfare. The problem is, that's not the church's main role. It's to lead souls to Heaven; not full stomachs.
Why did they change the names of so many of the other characters? I'm not really sure. Maybe they figured they'd already warped so much of the story that it wouldn't hurt.
Now, the question is just this; if it's so unfaithful and disrespectful to the life and history of this great woman, why didn't I hate it?
The truth is, the movie really isn't that bad. I bemoan the changes made, seemingly out of a secular, accomodationist view, but as a fictional story (which, let's be honest here, is what this movie is,) it's actually very touching and inspiring. It's moving, beautiful and well-paced. The settings are well-rendered, the costumes are wonderful, and nearly every actor did their job incredibly. It's a beautiful story about a woman who touches the hearts and souls of those around her, with her gentleness, compassion and faith.
At the start of this review, I said that it wouldn't be right to reccomend this movie, but thinking it over again, I don't think that's true. If you can accept that this movie is just fiction, and take it as such, there's no real harm in watching it, and you might even enjoy it. Just don't let anyone fool you into thinking it's a biography.