An island off the coast of Italy at the turn of the last century where the locals make their living from the sea, the women weaving their harmony around Agata as they drape her in veils, walking her to the shore where she strides into the water to make her offering to no avail; her child is born cold and grey, and with not even a single breath having passed her lips the priest declares that no baptism can take place.
The soul of her daughter condemned to drift nameless in limbo for eternity, Agata undertakes a second trial as slow and difficult as her labour pains, heading north to the snowy mountains in search of the Dolais Valley where she has been told there is a church where a stillborn baby can be brought to life for a moment, long enough to know its name so it can be called to heaven.
A personal mission undertaken with stoic determination, Small Body (Piccolo Corpo) is the feature debut of director Laura Samani from a script co-written with Marco Borromei and Elisa Dondi, focused entirely on the Celeste Cescutti’s Agata as she defies her village, recovering the small wooden box from the soft sand by lamplight and rowing her small boat to the mainland.
The terrain she must traverse a challenge in itself, through forests and mountain passes, the road is beset with other trials; met by a youth who offers to conduct her to the road, out of necessity the evasive Lynx (Ondina Quadri) becomes a companion to Agata but remains primarily self-interested, only one step above the bandits who try to seize the cart on which they were travelling.
Escaping only because the ringleader is a woman who takes pity on Agata even as her associates shoot the driver, Small Body is carried by women, reflecting their place in society and their complex relationships to each other, breeding stock, carers and wet nurses, the men peripheral even as they try to shape her actions with their words, the priest who is unyielding to her pleas, the fisherman Mattie who is almost indifferent to the loss of their child.
A journey through darkness like that of Orpheus leading to a boatman who conducts her across a icy lake to her destination and the price which must inevitably be paid, with key scenes accompanied by soaring choral chants the journey is beautiful throughout but feels meandering, Agata’s burden of unspoken grief borne by her alone, the film seeming to exist in a box as impenetrable as that which she has carried on her back.
Small Body on limited release from Friday 8th April