Saturday, January 17, 2009

"Little Flower" frenzy

I really love this 1993 film, Household Saints.
Act 1 shows Tracey Ullman and Vincent D'onofrio being thrown together in an arranged marriage by their blue-collar immigrant parents in NY's Little Italy. The superstitions of the Old Country go hand in hand with early 1950s Catholicism and torment poor Tracey when she is stuck living with her overbearing Mother-in-Law, played by theatre legend Judith Malina.

In one grueling scene, the old lady convinces a pregnant Tracey that she has "marked" her unborn child by looking out the window at a blind man. Then, pumped up with power, the Old Lady shows Tracey how she can reverse the curse by praying to Jesus's grandmother St. Anne. Tracey pleads: "Holy St Anna, Mother of our Blessed Virgin, Please Keep me from giving birth to a chicken."

By the 1960s in Act 2, Tracey and Vincent are raising their daughter who to their dismay becomes obsessed with the secrets revealed at Fatima and later as a teen (played by Lili Taylor) becomes obsessed with becoming a nun, or better yet, a saint in the mode of St. Therese of Lisieux, "the little flower".

Once I met Tracey Ullman at a book signing and she seemed not as enthused with the latter part of the film (which focuses on Lili Taylor) and all its religious fanaticism. When I told her how much I enjoyed this flick, Tracey asked me, "Were you raised Catholic? Oh ! that's why! Catholics love that film."

I suppose you really do need to be raised in a blue-collar, tight-knit multi-generational familial setting of deeply religious types to appreciate and be moved (or horrified) by this film. As a kid, I too wished that I could see some holy vision and experience the supernatural. Religious faith was handed down like a recipe - completely accepted and never analyzed.

Now all those years later, this film is a tender reminder that no matter what life brings and how culture changes, there will always be those people who can rework a tragedy and find a tenet, or see some miracle in the madness.
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