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To Rome with Love

Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service

Alessandro Tiberi, Roberto Della Casa and Penelope Cruz star in a scene from the movie "To Rome With Love."
With films set in London, Barcelona and Paris under his belt, quintessential New Yorker Woody Allen extends his European tour in "To Rome With Love" (Sony Classics). His farce follows various couples around the Eternal City as they search for romance, happiness, and -- all too frequently -- sin.

Writing, directing and acting, Allen spreads himself a bit thin; his 43rd picture feels jumbled and rushed. However, there are flashes of his vintage wit, and Rome, the real star of the movie, has never looked better. Unfortunately, the central theme—guilt-free adultery -- taints the proceedings and bars full enjoyment.

"To Rome With Love" features a quartet of stories. The first centers on Hayley (Alison Pill), an American student who, during a summer abroad, falls for handsome lawyer Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). Their engagement brings Hayley's parents, Phyllis (Judy Davis) and Jerry (Allen), across the Atlantic for a sit-down with the future in-laws.

Michelangelo's father, Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), is an undertaker with a special talent: While in the shower, he sings like an opera star. (Armiliato is a famous tenor in real life, and so fits the role perfectly.) Jerry, a retired opera director, sees stars amid the soap bubbles, and schemes to have Giancarlo hit the big time—even if it means carting along a portable shower stall.

The second narrative features a honeymoon couple from the provinces, Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) and Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi), who decide to relocate to the capital for a fresh start. But circumstances separate them just as they are due to meet Antonio's relatives and his future employer.

Antonio finds himself with sexy prostitute Anna (Penelope Cruz), and must pass her off as his sweet, innocent wife to save face. Milly, on the other hand, stumbles upon a film set and meets her movie-star idol, Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese). The sleazy leading man seduces her, but not before Anna has her way with Antonio.

In the film's ever-so-brief flirtation with morality, the saintly Milly admits it's wrong to break her marriage vows, even with her dream man. She wavers a moment, but quickly decides: What a great story to tell her grandchildren one day!

Really, Grandma?

Then there's famous American architect John (Alec Baldwin) who returns to Rome 30 years after a youthful sojourn there. He meets an early version of himself in Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), and soon starts coaching the lad in the art of seduction.

Though happy with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig), Jack is tempted when Sally's actress friend Monica (Ellen Page) arrives from Hollywood. Sparks fly, and hearts are set to be broken.

The last—and best—of the plotlines concerns Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), a perfectly ordinary Roman with a run-of-the-mill family and a humdrum job.

Leopoldo is content with his mundane life—until one day, out of the blue, he's swarmed by the paparazzi and turned into a media sensation for no apparent reason. Initially bewildered, Leopoldo is seduced by the spotlight and all the temptations that go along with being a "celebrity."

If this all seems confusing, it is; "To Rome With Love" is as tangled as the noodles in a bowl of spaghetti. Some mature viewers, well grounded in their faith, may find it a tasty cinematic dish. But it's likely to prove too spicy an offering even for most grownups.

The film contains a benign view of adultery and nonmarital sex, much sexual innuendo, as well as some uses of profanity and of rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog I discovered that my sins had created a spiritual racket that drowned out the gentle whispers of God to my soul; God had never actually abandoned me, but I needed repentance and sacramental grace to reawaken all that was good and beautiful in me.

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