Review: Small Body

Written and directed by Laura Samani, co-written by Elisa Dondi and Marco Borromei, set in Italy in 1900, Agata is a young woman who embarks herself on a desperate journey to reach a mysterious sanctuary to save her daughter’s soul from the eternal damnation of Limbo. Starring: Celeste Cescutti and Ondina Quadri.

From the outset, you know what sort of film you’re getting and what type of emotional arena you’re walking into but that in no way means that this story is predictable. Samani, Dondi and Borromei have crafted a tale which moves thoughtfully with a purposefulness, and a profound emotional weight and depth. It’s cleverly careful, it’s not about outbursts of grief, it’s a slow moving quest for closure and the lengths a woman will go to for her child. It explores with determination, perseverance and a force that gradually burrows its way into your heart, not with a sharp stab but an unrelenting sadness. Small Body doesn’t make you want to sob but instead gets under your skin and leaves you unable to ever let your focus leave the reality of the passenger she carries on her back.

Celeste Cescutti gives an outstanding debut performance as Agata, it’s powerful yet understated, strong yet vulnerable. She leads the film effortlessly, the sheer resilience and bravery she portrays is hard to look away from. Ondina Quadri is a very welcome addition as Lynx, bringing an intriguing personality and subtle complexity. The two of them together make an unusual pair, making you work to figure out where they ultimately stand. It’s a captivating back and forth watching their friendship develop, simultaneously revealing more about their own characters.

The superb quality of both Laura Samani’s direction and Mitja Licen’s cinematography is apparent immediately with this film. The style flawlessly befits the era it’s set in, immediately building an atmosphere of isolated communities, tradition and fervent beliefs. It sets an edge of danger and risk, there’s an intensity to it but one that lingers in the background rather than being thrown in your face. It embraces both the beauty and peril of nature, how it can be both stunning and unforgiving, making the journey a fight for both her child’s soul and her life.

Small Body is a tragic tale that plays out in a slow but incredibly thoughtful and moving way. It gradually burrows under your skin, gripped by Agata’s arduous journey and her unending strength. Celeste Cescutti gives an unforgettable performance and finds an unusual ally in Ondina Quadri, who gives a surprisingly complex portrayal, making a fascinating pair. Laura Samani captures the era superbly and creates a stirring, powerful image to do justice to its poignant story.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2021

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