Vito Bonafacci: A Modern Parable for the Faithful

Today, we’re stepping away from the bookshelf for a minute to look at a movie for the Patheos Movie Club. Although I’m reviewing this for the PMC, 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. So it really makes no nevermind.

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.

[This post is part of the Patheos Movie Club for “Vito Bonafacci,” a sponsored conversation in partnership with the filmmakers.]

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