Film Review: Vito Bonafacci

Midlife crisis prompts a building contractor to question his religious beliefs in this slow moving, faith-based drama.

Good intentions can't salvage Vito Bonafacci, a slow-paced drama about a doubter's religious reawakening. Obviously a labor of love for producer, writer and director John Martoccia, the film is receiving a theatrical release in New York before opening elsewhere. But its real market will be church groups already tuned in to the story's issues of faith.

Building contractor Vito Bonafacci (Paul Borghese) appears to be living the good life in a luxurious mansion on a hill. But when he dreams that his deceased mother (Emilese Aleandri) has sentenced him to Hell, he starts to suffer panic attacks.

Vito turns to those around him for help, asking Marie (Carin Mei), his maid, Ralph (Ralph Squillace), his barber, and Vinnie (Louis Vanaria), his gardener, what they believe about the afterlife. Vito also remembers turning points in his past: a grandfather (Ercole Ventura) who taught him about eternity; Sister Grace (Maria Cofano), who showed him how to pray the rosary; and Father LaGolbo (William DeMeo), who warned him to "live each day like it was your last."

Convinced that he will have a fatal heart attack if he leaves his grounds, Vito sends for Father Richard Dellos (played by himself). In Vito's living room, the two grapple over issues of faith and what it means to be a Catholic.

Vito Bonafacci is more a polemic than a feature narrative. The film proceeds from one debate about faith to another, its characters delivering talking points rather than engaging in conversation. Unfortunately, the screenplay fails to lay out its arguments clearly, or explain its flashback structure to viewers.

As a director, John Martoccia sketches believable characters with quick strokes, and builds strong emotions from small gestures and moments. But overall, Vito Bonafacci lacks focus. Long scenes detailing cooking, eating or just sitting don't lead anywhere. The film fails to build narrative momentum, and seems to be taking place in a hermetically sealed environment that has nothing to do with the real world. While the cinematography by Patrick Wells is accomplished, the pacing is extremely slow. Joseph Prusch's score, a mix of classical and religious themes, feels intrusive at times, as if trying to inject drama into scenes that have none.

These technical issues probably won't make much difference to the film's target audience of churchgoers who want to see their beliefs confirmed on film. But Vito Bonafacci lacks the intellectual depth and narrative realism needed to engage more skeptical viewers. Also troubling is the script's insistence on an extremely conservative form of Catholicism, one that espouses plenary indulgences as a way to pay off "temporal debt."