Lives of the Saints is a Canadian/Italian television mini-series adapted by Malcolm MacRury from the novel of the same name by Nino Ricci - an epic story of mystery, suicide and ritual murder, spanning 30 years and two countries in the life of a young Italian boy.
Moving across time from the horrors of wartime Italy to the swinging counter cultural scene in Toronto in the late 60s, it climaxes in Italy where family secrets and sins are ultimately revealed.
The mini-series premiered in Italy on 20 September, 2004. There are two parts to the mini-series, totalling three hours.
Lives of the Saints airs in South Africa on DStv's Hallmark channel on Thursday 22 and 29 January 2009, at 21h00.
Adultery, the evil eye and a snakebite are the circumstances that shape the childhood of Vittorio Innocente in the small village of Valle De Sole, in a society dominated by religion and superstition.
Lives of the Saints begins in an Italy almost unchanged since the beginning of the last century — moving across time from the horrors of wartime Italy to the swinging countercultural scene in Toronto in the late 60s.
The “intimate epic” travels from the sun-drenched Mediterranean to the frozen Arctic, to the flatlands of rural Ontario and finally back to the isolated hilltop village of Valle del Sole, Italy (Valley of the Sun), 20 years later in a story suffused with mystery, suicide and a ritual murder.
Who will pay for the sins and secrets of the family past?
Vittorio’s turbulent childhood revolves around his love for his mother, Cristina, (whose husband Mario has emigrated to Canada) but is informed by his Aunt Teresa (Sophia Loren). Also the village school teacher, she is his disciplinarian and his moral guide.
To enhance his lessons, she uses stories from a religious picture book - Lives of the Saints – which she gives him as a gift when he leaves Valle De Sole with his mother for the hope of a new and better life in Canada.
A widow, Teresa is the glue that holds the family together while Cristina (Sabrina Ferilli), an independent spirit, is strong-willed and fiery.
The village is full of whispers when Cristina is bitten in the stable by a poisonous snake. Superstitions and ancient taboos come to light when she becomes pregnant.
As if this were not enough, Cristina refuses to do penance and be cowed by the villagers’ reaction to her condition. Much to their dismay, she appears to flaunt her pregnancy.
The villagers’ mistreatment of the family and the absence of Vittorio’s father Mario, Tersa’s brother, fuel the multitude of family secrets that unfold as Vittorio journeys into adulthood.
Tragedy strikes when he travels to Canada and Cristina dies giving birth to Vittorio’s sister, Rita. With his mother’s passing Vittorio takes on the role of protector of his baby sister.
The children join Vittorio’s father Mario who, to support his family, had emigrated to Canada ahead of them working on a farm in Ontario.
Vittorio is unable to show his love for Rita in front of Mario, as her existence is a constant reminder of his wife’s infidelity. Mario cannot bear to see “the girl” who lives within the farmhouse like a shadow.
Once in school, Rita begins visiting the ultra WASP home of her friend Elena Amherst and stays away from home for longer and longer periods. Vittorio’s only comfort is Teresa, who arrives from Italy to run the household.
But by the time Rita is eight, tensions in the house reach a breaking point, culminating with Mario shooting Rita’s dog for raiding the chicken coop. Finally, Rita goes to live with the Amhersts and eventually is adopted by them.
Little by little Vittorio loses contact with her, realising he can never be part of her new world. Like his mother, Rita is no longer mentioned in the Innocente farmhouse.
Vittorio becomes more alienated from his father, fleeing to the far north. His isolated existence is shattered when Vittorio is forced to return home upon hearing of his father’s suicide.
At the funeral he is reunited with Rita, now a beautiful sensuous 18-year-old with the same spirited nature as his beloved mother, Cristina.
Rita deals with her own demons and through an intervention by Teresa, meets her birth father. When this goes badly she turns to Vito for comfort in a sudden passionate seduction.
Vittorio is forced to come to terms with this encounter and eventually with the truth of his own parentage, one of the many secrets that has been locked up for so many years.
Only when Vittorio returns to Valle del Sole is he able to shed light onto these family secrets, and begin to understand the harsh kindness of his Aunt Teresa.
With this knowledge, Vittorio finally settles into the present and understands that life is a lesson, no matter how harsh and that we all need the insight the past has to offer.
He finally sees Teresa for what she really is and how her life has been its own chapter of “Lives of the Saints.”