Comparing ‘Saint John Bosco: Mission to Love’ and ‘Don Bosco’

Sarah Wandor

Critic’s Corner Columnist

Since St. John Bosco’s feast day was last month on Jan. 31, it seems fitting to write a review of a movie on this great saint’s life. There are two films that I know of that depict his life: “Saint John Bosco: Mission to Love,” released in 2004 and “Don Bosco,” released in 1988. Throughout this article, I will be comparing not only which is better made, but also which one is a better and more accurate portrayal of St. John Bosco and his life.

The 2004 “John Bosco: Mission to Love” was filmed in Italian and is available with English voice-over. However, it sounds more like a joke than anything else. There is no emotion in people’s voices and so whenever they speak, not one person sounds like they mean anything of what they say. In certain scenes, the baker is supposed to be angry and John Bosco loving, but vocally, neither of them seems to care. It is so bad that I had to watch most of the movie in Italian, which was an improvement, but not enough to save the film, unfortunately.

The film does not improve much from there, if at all. When John Bosco talks about love or how to act with virtue, the dialogue attempts to be inspirational and touching but only succeeds in being cliché and boring to the audience.

The story of John Bosco’s life is also inaccurate in the movie. It tells of many events of his life but bends them to be over dramatic to the point where, in some cases, their truthfulness is called into question with events that never happened.

For example, the many hostile meetings with Marchese Clementi, who is in charge of the prison, is untrue, as the two men were never enemies nor friends. They didn’t agree with each other, but Clementi did help John Bosco in regards to some laws that were being passed.

As if that wasn’t enough, the set also has errors. In the film, they speak of prisons being dark, crowded and dirty. Yet when John Bosco visits, the prisons are bright and clean, and the cells do not seem over-populated at all. Also, the views of the city and building sites all seem clean, which is not only inaccurate for the industrial revolution, but also fails to live up to the film’s talk of many people in need.

However, the most disappointing part of the 2004 film is its portrayal of John Bosco. He appears weak and lacking in the strong will he would have needed to do what he did. In the film, he is fidgeting with his biretta hat when asking for a favor from the head of the prison and carries more nervousness and desperation than faith.

When he speaks, he lacks conviction, especially when talking about how God will provide. Throughout the film, his love and joy seem forced and fake. He puts on a smile and laughs around others, yet looks like the very act of loving the boys is exhausting to him and gives him no fulfillment. He is portrayed not as the faithful, loving man he was but as a fragment of the saint he is.

In contrast to this, however, the 1988 film “Don Bosco” may not give as many details about John Bosco’s life, but it gives a more accurate portrayal and authentic telling of his life. It was filmed in both English and Italian and the actors are immensely superior at giving vocal inflection and allowing their words to have a weight to them. The way they converse with each other by not forcing the dialogue allows the audience to become absorbed in the film and enjoy it more fully.

An additional element the 1988 film has that the 2004 lacks is an appropriate set. The street and building sites are dirty, as are the people who live there, and you see boys waiting around for work. It reflects the problems John Bosco is trying to solve by giving boys a place to stay and teaching them a trade. The film doesn’t gloss over the poverty, starvation and lack of work people were experiencing but presents them as they were, causing the film to be more immersive and powerful.

Yet what stands out the most is the portrayal of John Bosco. His love and care for his boys is clearly shown on his face as he teaches them or watches them play, and he isn’t exhausted by them or his work. On the contrary, he enjoys himself when he is with his boys. He is also shown to have a strong will and faith in God on multiple occasions throughout the film, believing that God will provide and showing his beliefs through his attitude. He is shown standing up to people by being stern without being rude to them. John Bosco is portrayed as the saint he was throughout the film, not just in name only but by his actions and the faith and will he is shown to possess.

Both films strive to tell the incredible life story of John Bosco but only one succeeds in doing so well: “Don Bosco.” “Saint John Bosco: Mission to Love” causes the story of John Bosco to seem like more of a pill to swallow than something to be enjoyed. It focuses more on the problems he had than what he accomplished and gives a poor portrayal of him as a whole, whereas the 1988 film exemplifies his love and care for his boys, as well as his strong will in disagreeing with and standing up to others. It is by far the more enjoyable film and does a much better job at telling the story of the life of John Bosco.