Caterina (Margherita Buy) is too young and pretty and seems far too worldly to be a nun. Not in this day and age. Not in sexy, sunny Italy. Yet here she is, wearing a gray veil and a shapeless nun's garb, dashing about Milan to care for the sick, going to a church basement to sort donated clothes, then back to the convent to eat and pray with her fellow nuns. Ernesto (Silvio Orlando, a Peter Sellers lookalike) is also a puzzle. He seems not to know or care about his business, which is running a busy dry-cleaning shop. In fact, he seems not to care about much, except getting through the day. These two have never met, and under ordinary circumstances it's unlikely they ever would.

Then, one day, Caterina finds a newborn infant in the park, a baby girl wrapped in a man's sweater. After she surrenders the child to a hospital maternity ward, she is left with just the sweater, which luckily bears a cleaner's tag. Yes, she traces the garment to Ernesto's shop, and yes, it belongs to him. Later, upon reflection, Ernesto begins to believe the foundling child may belong to him, too. Both Caterina and Ernesto become infatuated with the abandoned babe, and both become obsessed with finding her mother.

Along the way, the compassionate nun and the formerly dull but now suddenly alive businessman begin to find each other. And why not? For they have a lot in common: Both are prone to deep self-doubts and even deeper longings. Also, both have a penchant for weaving extravagant fantasies-unlike Teresa (Carolina Freschi), the baby's mother, whose life we glimpse in brief bits from the very beginning of the film. When Caterina and Ernesto finally locate and confront Teresa, they're shocked to find she's unrepentant and is getting on with her life. So they're left with the problem of what to do about the child, and about each other. But there are no tidy answers here, and no predictable ending to this story of lost souls.

Italy submitted Not of This World as its entry for Best Foreign-Language film at this year's Academy Awards, but it failed to make the cut to the final five films actually nominated. Clearly, this picture doesn't have the potential for the kind of critical or commercial success that greeted Life Is Beautiful, the Italian entry that so wowed U.S. audiences, as well as Academy voters, last year. However, Not of This World is a better movie than the widely acclaimed comedy/drama about the Holocaust which won two Oscars for writer/director/star Roberto Benigni. This is a much more relaxed human comedy, and its leading characters are more simpatico-more Italian, somehow-than those in the overly contrived Benigni film.

--Shirley Sealy