EXCLUSIVE: New ‘Padre Pio’ movie released in June with Shia LaBeouf not biopic (TRAILER)

June 13, 2023

Shia LaBeouf stars in the new drama “Padre Pio,” which premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival and was released in U.S. theaters and on demand June 2. (OSV News Photo)

HOUSTON — Actor Shia LaBeouf, known for starring in movies like Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, plays a new role of revered Catholic saint Padre Pio released in theaters and streaming June 2.

As per his usual deep dive into a role, the 37-year-old LaBeouf spent four months living with Franciscan Capuchin friars at a friary in Solvang, California, while preparing for the film. During this time, he began converting to Catholicism, which he first discussed publicly in an interview with Bishop Robert Barron last year.

“I still go to Mass every week, and I’m taking RCIA classes,” LaBeouf said in a Zoom interview on May 23 with the Texas Catholic Herald. “I don’t shy away from my problems, but I’m not going to keep myself or anyone in the ‘shame cave.’ I involve God and making conscious contact.”

LaBeouf, who made his bar mitzvah at 13 and was also baptized by an uncle who was a Christian pastor, credits the Catholic faith for “saving my life.”

“I was living a life of disorder and anarchy. I was completely lost,” he said. “But Catholicism never made me feel guilty — that’s a myth. They welcomed me as a flawed individual.” That started him on the road of setting aside his ego to personally deal with alcoholism and assault charges.

A friar's perspective

Also on the Zoom interview were Padre Pio movie director Abel Ferrara in Rome and Brother Alexander Rodriguez, OFM, Capuchin Franciscan living in California, who appears as Padre Pio’s spiritual companion in the movie, serving Mass with LaBeouf.

Filmed on location in Puglia, Italy, the visuals range from crisp cinematography of rocky exterior shots to close-ups of craggy characters. Many stark scenes look like portraits. But then darkness covers most of the screen when showing Padre Pio praying in his cell or in the chapel, wrestling with a naked body representing the devil.

There seems to be two separate plots in the movie, distributed by Gravitas Ventures. The opening scene starts with a young Padre Pio arriving on a donkey at the small town of San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy, reminiscent of Jesus riding into Jerusalem. Instead of a cheering crowd, a sole monk welcomes him to the friary.

But the film quickly refocuses on the class struggles of poor peasants returning to the village after soldiering in the nightmarishly destructive World War I. Socialist activists attempt to rally the working class to revolt against the wealthy landowners who also own the police and political forces.

The socialists are bloodily beaten and shot, even when they win a local election, and are not allowed to enter the city hall carrying the red socialist flag. Police kill 14 in the little-known October 1920 protest and injured more than 60 in the village of San Giovanni Rotondo near the monastery where Padre Pio lived.

Fascism had started rising in Italy in 1919 with Benito Mussolini, who later aligned with Hitler to sow the seeds of World War II. The movie is dedicated to those victims “massacred” in the village and to those currently suffering in embattled Ukraine.

Padre Pio 'knew the suffering'

Director Abel Ferrara, who also directed the violent “Bad Lieutenant,” defended the Padre Pio film. “It’s not two separate movies. They happen at the same time in history. But he’s in the monastery and not in the center of town, so he’s not out and about like the town’s priest. He celebrates Masses that some of the townspeople go to, and he does confessions, but he’s connected to them in a different way. He’s feeling them — the soldiers — he had been in the military — he knew the suffering.”

Ferrara, an Italian American born in the Bronx, a lapsed Catholic now living in Italy, made a documentary in Italian about Padre Pio before working on this current English-language movie. He argued the intersection between the saint’s spiritual battles and the political bloodshed made sense as a scope for the film.

Brother Alex agreed, “Back then, they were more monastic and not as much contact with people. This movie takes place before Padre Pio became so well-known.”

This is a striking arthouse film if the audience realizes it’s not a biography of the saint’s life but more of a snapshot of a tattered society after World War I and the desperate need for everyone to heal.

Film's controversies stand out

Yet a couple of controversies may keep people from watching this film — first, LaBeouf, in his role, does not use an Italian accent, but his regular English, which can be disconcerting in contrast with the other actors who are mostly Italian and using English with an accent.

But even more disturbing is why the creators allowed the use of profanity. Padre Pio specifically spits out the “F” word during the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the movie, which is both offensive and shocking, despite it being so overused in modern films. The priest was known to be brusque, to read hearts, and get angry with those who were not contrite or sincere during confession, but he was not known for being vulgar. Thus, the R rating for profanity, violence and brief nudity.

Brother Alex refers to Padre Pio’s letters in which he wrote of his personal struggles. “He had difficulty with his passions. There was fear, anger, lust, and moments of suffering. We wanted to show him not only as a saint but a sinner as we all are,” he said.

But the ending of the movie can grip the viewer with reverence. In the darkness, Padre Pio is praying alone. A light focuses on a hand that comes around to hug the priest’s shoulder, shining with a stigmata on the back of the hand, part of the bloody wounds of Christ. LeBeouf starts quietly crying.

The actor in the interview explains with a Southern phrase, “The ending is the big shindig. There is purpose in suffering. Christ suffered for us.”

So the end of the movie is actually the beginning of Padre Pio’s more public life when the marks of the stigmata appear on his own hands, feet and side for the next 50 years whenever he celebrated Mass.

Pope John Paul II, as a young priest, Father Karol Wojtyla, met Padre Pio in 1947. The future pontiff was in doctoral studies in Rome when he made the pilgrimage to the small town of San Giovanni Rotondo to have his confession heard by Padre Pio. He stayed for a week, and they became friends.

Born Francesco Forgione, Padre Pio died in 1968 at the age of 81; he was later beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1999 and canonized on June 16, 2002.