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'Cabrini': The Underdog Tale of a Heroic Nun

| March 14, 2024 | By

Movies dubbed as “faith-based” dealing with Christianity over the last few decades have often felt forced, but Cabrini (2024) reaches toward the level of such Hollywood classics as 1948’s Joan of Arc or 1943’s Song of Bernadette.

Even though it reminds me of the Golden Age of Cinema, Cabrini has a bit of a modern twist that I didn’t mind. I think most can enjoy this underdog story about the incredible woman, St. Francesca Saverio Cabrini, aka Mother Cabrini, played by Cristiana Dell'Anna in the film.

Who Is Mother Cabrini?

Mother Cabrini was the first U.S. citizen to be canonized as a Catholic saint. The Italian saint was born premature in 1850 and seen as frail, yet she ended up coming to America to work among the Italian immigrants, who were being extremely marginalized at the time. After she died in 1917, her canonization started rapidly. 

The movie Cabrini narrows in on Cabrini’s struggles as a woman and Italian immigrant. Despite the discrimination that was shown in the movie, Cabrini’s love and faith never failed. 

Why Did I Like the Film?

First, the movie was culturally rich and artistically stunning. I almost cried at the end, especially during Andrea Bocelli and Virginia Bocelli’s Dare to Be (read more about it in my colleague, Kate O’Hare’s article).


Second, generally, a movie character without flaws is boring. In my eyes, Cabrini masterfully shows the titular woman in a way that still honors her while acknowledging her imperfections.

She’s frustrated (justifiably, but not always handled the best), she guilt-trips others, and she neglects her own health.

She is human.

While some of her flaws do not go away, and some of them even help her at times, the portrayal made her relatable.

Even so, the film was still respectful of her and treated her as a Christ-like figure.

Why Do Others Like the Film?

I believe a lot of the same reasons I like the film is why it’s reaching a more secular audience.

The reviews speak for themselves. Just look ...

Deadline’s Damon Wise says: 

It's a story worth telling, and its solemn, old-school storybook stylings are quite refreshing in the modern age.

And from Frank Scheck from The Hollywood Reporter:

The film smartly avoids making the character a cardboard saint, thanks to such smart dialogue as when Cabrini is ordered back to Italy by the Church at one point. In her subsequent meeting with the pope, he tells her, "You fascinate me, Cabrini. I can’t tell when your faith ends and your ambition begins."

A ScreenRant review by Stephen Holland: 

Conflict between vocation and persistence was what made Cabrini such a compelling drama, with Mexican director Alejandro Monteverde powerfully depicting the incredible life of the Catholic missionary.

Good cinema is good cinema.

What Can Christians Can Take Away?

Sometimes Christians forget the importance of leading by example or being Christian in everything we do. Cabrini does an excellent job of showing a woman whose actions speak even louder than her words.

The director, Alejandro Monteverde says,

The works of mercy are in the film. Look, her life is a prayer. So you want to pray, just watch her life. Do 1% of that. That’s her life. It’s show, don’t tell.

Should You Watch It?

As someone who doesn’t like biopics/historical dramas very much, I was decently impressed. Cabrini offers a good reminder to Catholics and other Christians about how to be more Christ-like to others.

But it should appeal to a wider audience than just Christians, as it hits on themes important to many today, such as having strong portrayals of women, and advocating an end to oppression -- and also due to its relatable protagonist (Ex. I took an atheist to see this film with me, and she liked it). 


IMAGE: Cristina Dell'Anna as Mother Cabrini in 'Cabrini'/Angel Studios

Maggie Orsinger graduated from John Paul the Great Catholic University in 2020 with a degree in Communications Media. She also holds an 2023 MFA from Pepperdine University for Screenwriting.

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