Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Vito Bonafacci: A Modern Parable for the Faithful

I received the DVD from the director individually. I think y'all know me well enough to know we'd never speak of this again if I didn't like it ... no matter how I saw the film.

Lapsed Catholic Vito Bonafacci has had a nightmare he can't shake the next day: driving through his gates he suffers from a heart attack, dies, and goes to Hell. His deceased mother comes to tell him where he went wrong.

We've all had the experience of being unable to shake the aftereffects of vivid dreams, but few of us have them come true in front of our eyes. After discussing the dream with both his housekeeper and wife, Vito's day unfolds exactly as he dreamed. Not surprisingly, when he gets to the gates, he can't make himself drive through them.

Effectively trapped on the grounds of his home, Vito begins a quest to figure out what he's done that is so terrible. After all, as he tells his wife, "I've been a good person. I worked hard for my money. Don't I deserve to enjoy it while I'm healthy?" (paraphrased)

Indeed, he does have a good life to enjoy. His estate is palatial, he employs many servants, and he is building a second summer home. However, as he discerns, his spiritual life is bankrupt. Can he change his ways and avoid hell?

Vito Bonafacci tells a parable rather than a typical story. I couldn't help but think of the parable of Lazarus and the poor man.
There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz'arus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom.

The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz'arus in his bosom. And he called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz'arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.'

But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz'arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.'

And he said, `Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.'

But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.'

And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'

He said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'"
Although not exactly the same as the parable, Vito Bonafacci serves the same purpose for faithful Catholics by reminding us of the power and beauty of our faith and, despite that, how easy it is to fall away without realizing it. It serves as a piece I would readily recommend for meditative viewing, especially during Lent. Although the subject matter is dramatic, dealing as it does with Last Things, but the movie itself proceeds almost tranquilly thanks to the classical soundtrack and beautiful cinematography.

This is a labor of love and unfortunately it shows in a some ways that are less desirable than the beauty and message. The professional actors are complemented by local amateurs and it is obvious which are which. As well, the dialogue is rather stilted as the main points are made. Most jarring for us, however, were the points when everything ground to a halt as the frame froze and scripture reinforcing a point was shown over the picture. The film makers would have done well to have offered the scriptural background as an extra. Also, I would have cut the mother's dialogue by at least half. We understood very early on what the problem was and didn't need the extra discussion. But that's an Italian mama for you, right? She wants to make sure her Vito is listening and so she just keeps going ... and going.

Those points aside, this movie definitely has its heart in the right place and I would be unashamed to give copies to my friends. For one thing it is difficult to find a movie that is theologically sound as this one is. It will not steer you wrong if you, like Vito, are looking for answers about getting to Heaven.

Vito Bonafacci still held my interest as I was curious to see just where Vito wound up ... and if he would ever feel safe to get in his car again.

Definitely recommended for the faithful who want a boost to their faith, a contemplative aid, or simply a look at stepping back from everyday life to get in touch with the spiritual.


  1. I really wanted to like this when I first saw the trailer some time ago but I kept feeling like I was watching a Catholic "Fireproof" which I saw as essentially protracted sermonettes interlaced with anything from occasional decent action sequences and mostly non compelling B- acting. Ouch, I know. I have base my opinion on the trailer alone because, and perhaps this says something, that experience told me I wouldn't make it through the whole film. I don't question the message or the sincerity but unlike you I would definitely have difficulty sharing this with my unchurched or lapsed family or neighbour.

    I'd say this is good for the already churched crowd and maybe someone who has a preternaturally soft side.

    I feel so mean now, so bad but I'm not a mean or bad person... ;-)

  2. No, of course you're not. And, as far as I can tell, that is pretty much what my review said ... it is good for the faithful to use as a meditative aid. Not a movie but a parable (sermons, right?) So what you said is basically what I said. Except it ain't no Fireproof. Fireproof was terrible. :-)

    Done and done.

  3. Samantha J. said...

    I saw this movie "Vito Bonafacci" on the big screen at the Big Apple Film Festival in NYC and was surprised at how good the cinemetography was for a low budget indie. It was slow moving at times but I think that was first time direcor John Martoccia's vision and choice based on the Q&A I stuck around for. Which made it pleasantly meditative as the review said. I agree about the opening dream sequence though, that it should have been cut in half, the Mother talking in Italian and being translated was redundant and that less of the scripture on the screen would have made for more of a narative "movie" feel than the feel of being partialy religious instructional at times. I have seen the lead actor Paul Borghese in many other movies and on TV shows and I think that he really brought Vito to life, was very believable in the role and his obvious improvisational ability made for more interesting and amusing of a movie and even sometimes charming with comic relief, than was probably originally intended. I also agree it was a shame that a professional actor like this was thrown some local amatuers to work with in a few of the scenes which I too thought were rather obvious and stood out. I particularly enjoyed the scene Borghese was paired with Louis Vanaria as his Gardener Vinny, an also obviously professional actor I have seen in other movies and on TV as well. As a Catholic I wish more movies like this were made and I too would love to see a sequel to find out what REALLY happened to Vito!

    God Bless.

    Samantha J.

  4. Good Movie! I liked it.

    VeryVincent@CatholicIam said...

    Nice to see movies of faith like this being made. There aren't enough of them. Bravo to the cast and crew of Vito B. Thanks for the experience. And yeah... how do we find out what happened to Vito? Does he have a heart attack and die or go on to live a better or even WORSE life????

    VeryVinny :)

  5. Big Jim Wheeler6/7/12, 5:01 AM

    Excellent movie with a very powerful message. Very well acted and directed, this film delivers on all counts.

  6. Very good article about a vety good movie. Julie D. hit on all the major points of discussion but I really agree with her in the comparison with Lazarus and the rich man parable. THATS THE LESSON IN VITO! There are worldly treasures and there are heavenly treasures. We are instructed to pursue the latter. And if we get too caught up in our worldly possesions....there will be hell to pay. Great article, Julie D. May I add....Perhaps there may have been flaws in the making of Vito....but its the content that movie holds....the message it provides that will save many people. Mr. Martoccia,(director) used the bible and his faith as his guide. If ypu ask me...he nailed it!

  7. Deep and Moving!

    Stephanie D said...

    The movie Vito Bonafacci; A Search For The Truth, creates an opportunity for personal reflection that at times even challenges the viewer to contemplate the some uncomfortable realities of human life, including our own very personal feelings about God, our spiritual life and how that impacts how we view acceptance, judgment, death, Heaven and Hell. I thought the message that as Christians we should be prepared to take ownership of our conscience and the choices we have before us as Catholics, was deliberate and appropriate. I was very impressed that the film took considerable risks, by bringing the audience face to face with conversations and dialog that is typically considered socially taboo. I think that if nothing else, Vito Bonafacci' made a point to reinforce our Catholic religion and faith and provides hope for any of us who may feel lost or separated from church and a spiritual life, and who just may need someone like Vito to show them there can be renewal with acceptance and peace for any of us on our journey back to Christ and the Catholic Church. Growing up as a Catholic, I appreciated Vito’s memories of learning the rosary from his early Catholic school years. I was glad to see that the film included as part of Vito’s transformation choosing to have a Priest to take his confession and then offer him Communion, how that ritual renewed and reaffirmed his him and his faith. As Catholics we believe these can be the most powerful and affirming sacraments to demonstrate our devotion to the belief we become one with God. My favorite quote from this film is "much of what the world holds in esteem, the Lord holds in disdain". I loved the soundtrack of classical Italian music and the amazing setting of this movie. I believe the movie, Vito Bonafacci, A distracted away from the truth but what’s more important is the road we travel back begins with a renewal of faith, in our selves, in the Church and in God. Paul Borghese, a seasoned actor, who played Vito Bonafacci, clearly “felt” this role and his connection to the struggles of his character and relationships to I was moved watching, knowing that as an actor and a Catholic he was devoted to delivering a believable and heartfelt performance that came from his core belief in the church and in God. A couple of other highlights for me from the movie were the Italian music that played was authentic and easily recognized by anyone of Italian heritage. It reminded me of very special and beautiful memories of my early years. Lastly, I thought that the movie’s location, grounds and home, was just beautiful, and the perfect setting choice for this story and character. Stephanie D.

  8. Well I don't have the artistic expression as some do but my comment is this; The actor playing Vito did a great job in showing the struggle one goes through when the goodness of God touches your heart and the reality of your mortality forces you to change. I empathized with him every single minute of the film. It is a feeling that sometimes you can't explain and I think the actor did a great job in showing this when we see him many times just sitting alone with his thoughts and emotions. Feelings of doubt, anger, confusion, joy and fear all play a part in that transformation and I think the actor did a wonderful job in manifesting those emotions on the big screen. When life presented to me how fragile life is and how small I really am I started a journey down the path pretty much like like Vito. Asking questions, day dreaming, no appetite, and pretty much like Vito at the end of the film, on my knees looking towards heaven and asking God to come into my life. I walked away from this film with feelings of gratitude; Once I was blind but now I can see John 9:25......Thanks Vito