Samad Zarmadili’s directorial debut Beate shuffles between two settings within a small Italian city. The first of those settings are the picket lines. There, a group of female seamtresses are striking against their lingerie designer boss. That boss, by the way, wants to move her factory to Serbia, leaving the women without work. The screen flashes through a month of protests. That flash signals the lack of media attention that these women are getting and that they are losing.
The town with the moderately successful underwear industry also has a convent. There, a freak accident gives the resident Mother Superior a stroke. This leaves young Suor Caterina (Maria Roveran) in charge of a centuries old structure that badly needs repairs. She later discovers that if she can’t come up with the money, they’ll demolish the convent. And of course, these women are going to team up together, providing each other with some money.
The camera, then, captures the climactic scenes within the convent. There, the ‘sinful’ underwear seamstresses and the nuns have to share the same space. The seamstress’ leader, Armida (Donatella Finocchiaro), gets her name from a fictional saint. And ironically, even moving to the convent, she has to deal with having her hands-y boyfriend Loris (Paolo Pierobon) around. Meanwhile her aunt, Suor Restituta (Lucia Sardo), watches over them. Not all the nuns are prudes though, as one of the sisters (Felicite Mbezele) inputs suggestions about the bra’s designs.
Reacting to these situations is Finocchiaro. She has a face reminiscent of actresses who reigned during Western Europe’s melodrama and neorealist age. The camera, through Finocchiaro, captures a world that combines both genres. It adds a third, comedy, a genre that sometimes loses its touch between translations. Either that or that this film’s version of comedy doesn’t work even for viewers who have low comic thresholds. Tracks from the whimsical woodwind-heavy score start playing when characters get themselves in awkward situations and that’s it? It’s supposedly funny because nuns are squeamish about sex? Cringe comedy about sex have manifested better jokes.
The cinematography here looks as cheap as its comedy, which is unfortunate because this could have been a timely film. Viewers worldwide are scrambling just as much as these characters with economically precarious conditions. But outside of Armida, Beate uses its characters and their looks as punchlines. They do this specifically to the film’s most prominent male character, Loris. And they make him look funnier than usual. It apparently makes sense that he’s Armida’s boyfriend because of her physical impediment.
Perhaps this is projection, but they make a punchline out of him. Those jokes at his expense dampen how serious his character eventually becomes. There’s a scene when he feels sad because Armida leaves him for reasons she doesn’t want to reveal yet. This falls flat because of everything that precedes it. The rest of the film’s look, with its Dutch angles and out of focus shots, also feel weird. And weird aesthetic should have better results than this.