Written by Mary Ann Kreitzer of Les Femmes- The Truth
The movie, Vito Bonafacci, tells the story of a wealthy businessman living the American dream. He owns a beautiful home, has a lovely wife, children (whom we never see) – in fact, Vito has it all from the world’s point of view. In the process of gaining the world, however, he has left God behind – twenty-five years behind we find out later. Vito sees himself as a good man, one who cares about his family and employees and doesn’t commit any of the “big” sins, so he’s deeply shocked and disturbed by a prophetic dream where, as he drives through the electronic gates of his estate, he suffers a heart attack and dies. His Italian mamma in an extended close up explains in Italian (with subtitles) why he is going to hell. When Vito wakes up in the morning, he is a frightened man “in search of the truth,” the subtitle of the movie. As his dream unfolds in the reality of daylight, Vito explores his life, including flashbacks to his youth, and comes face to face with the reality that “being good” according to the world’s view is insufficient to gain eternal life.
John Martoccia, the producer, screenwriter, and director addresses a timely issue. Many Catholics, and others who consider themselves “good people,” practice religion sporadically or not at all. He explores serious metaphysical questions. Who is God? What does He expect of us? What does it mean to be good? What will happen on the day of judgment? Is there a hell? Am I in danger of going there? The movie is basically a journey through Vito’s soul. We see him as a youngster who obviously was raised in a serious Catholic home. Somewhere along the journey he’s lost his way and the film explores his finding it again. The questions raised are real. In fact, the film brought to mind a conversation I had with my opthamologist a few years ago during an eye exam. A lapsed Catholic, he rarely attended Mass. Even on cruises where Mass was offered he didn’t go. As we spoke, he was slightly mocking toward my orthodoxy. In fact, he sounded like Vito who thinks he doesn’t need to practice his faith to be good. I could see my doctor shrugging off the concepts of sin and hell and adopting the attitude of Maria, Vito’s cook, who has a simplistic view of a nice God who never sends anyone to hell. At the time, I said the same thing to my doctor that Vito says to his atheist barber, “I’ll pray for you.”
The music and cinematography of the film are lovely: the gardens and the grounds of Vito’s lavish estate, the exterior and interior shots of Vito’s home and his beautiful childhood church all provide a perfect accompaniment to the action. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of that which I think is the major flaw of the film. The movie mostly tells rather than shows and is sometimes didactic in the telling. One of the most interesting scenes to me was at the breakfast table when Vito’s wife joins him. He begins to discuss the plans for their second “summer” home and she demurs, saying they really don’t need it. Vito loses his temper and we see a flash of the worldly, selfish man defending his right to enjoy “my” money. That scene gives us a glimpse of two of Vito’s sins — avarice and anger. He’s a hot-tempered, materialistic Italian. Later on, in flashback, we see Vito talking to his parish priest who’s sitting in a pine wood reading a book. Vito’s mother sends him to see the priest because the baseball coach threw him off the team for fighting. Vito gets a lecture which includes the priest reading from the back cover of his book, Preparation for Death by St. Alphonsus Liguori (the connection to Vito’s dream is obvious). The priest then sends him to the church where he gets another lecture on prayer and the rosary from a nun. Everything they say is absolutely on target, but it’s all tell and no show. The poor young actor playing Vito has almost nothing to do. I thought how much more powerful it would be to see the fight. Not only would it have made the young Vito more real (It’s hard to imagine this placid listener ever throwing a punch), it also would have linked beautifully to the later scene when the priest who hears Vito’s confession uses a boxing metaphor for fighting the devil.
One other visual metaphor in the film that I found particularly appealing clearly depicts the central question explored — are we meant to live for God or for money. Vito is feeding his tropical fish and we see the large colorful fish eating the smaller feeder fish. Will we choose to imitate Christ and be fishers of men, or will we strive to be “big fish” in the world feeding on smaller fish for our own personal benefit? The choice is ours, but, as Vito comes to realize, every choice has its price and the price of rejecting or ignoring God is the loss of eternal life.
I loved the performance of Paul Borghese with his Bronx accent who reminded me of Columbo without the trench coat. He does a beautiful job portraying Vito’s inner conflict which is the central action of the film. The supporting actors do a good job as well. I was especially taken by Vito’s priest, played by real-life Fr. Richard Dellos, who comes to Vito’s home and reaps the harvest of his conversion.
In closing, I think it’s accurate to describe Vito Bonafacci as a visual catechism and meditation on death and judgment. It challenges viewers to explore and live a serious Catholic life. Contemplating the reality of death has a way of focusing the mind and heart on what’s really important. In Vito’s case, his prophetic dream is the “blessing” from God that changes his life. Let’s hope that Vito’s story helps many realize how easy it is to slip into a materialism that kills our relationship with God. May it wake them up before a real heart attack robs them of the opportunity to convert. After all, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul in the process?” Or, as Paul Borghese said in an interview describing what the film has to offer, “I think if you watch the movie you stand a better chance of going to heaven.” Helping people get to heaven? – What a novel (and noble) idea for a film!