Cabrini A Phenomenal Woman

Film review by Roney Henderson

From her opening line in this movie, it is evident that Francesca Cabrini was no ordinary woman. A mere nun, the headmistress of a Catholic orphanage is demanding a meeting with the Pope, to get her own way. She wants to lead a mission and neither the Pope or his administration are going to stop her, even though she has already been rejected and settled for the role of a headmistress. This role is not enough for Cabrini who is just simply passionate about rescuing the poor and broken.

The narrative is anything but ordinary.  There are standout moments such as when Cabrini, played by Cristiana Dell’Anna,  comes face to face with the Pope in making her plea to go on a mission to China. Who in their right mind brazenly, confronts the pope, let alone a mere nineteenth century nun, in a time where women had very little say in the running of things.  

Born in Italy, 1850, Cabrini does not have a diminishing character and so confronting the Pope, played by Giancarlo Giannini, a second time, who reluctantly, agrees and sends her on a mission, but not to the country she requested, is for Cabrini, par for the course. So they both win. Unknow to either of them this decision would change the trajectory of Cabrini’s life and, despite being an ordinary woman, she would achieve feats unmatched by any other individual, past or present, in her field.

The movie shows Cabrini’s, act of passion when she goes into the sewers to rescue the children who live there and prostitutes whom she befriends and rescues from their enslavers, housing them in the orphanage as one big family.

This story of Cabrini, directed by visionary filmmaker Alejandro Martinez, gives a remarkable cinematic tribute to the life of an extraordinary woman. A story of a woman’s drive, determination and compassion to initially save her fellow Italians in the slums at Five Points, New York, at the turn of the century who were living in squalor and abject poverty. The Accomplishments of Cabrini would lead to her becoming the first female Saint in the Catholic Church. 

The cinematography is simply beautiful and Martinez powerfully captures both pain and beauty and Cristiana Dell’Anna gives an outstanding and believable performance. 


Cabrini possessed a compassionate heart for the underprivileged and marginalised, fearlessly approaching individuals of power and authority, including those harbouring prejudiced sentiments against Italians, to advance her mission. She approached businessmen, politicians, wealthy benefactors and whoever she thought could help regardless if they liked her or not.

To her, no obstacle was insurmountable, and her bold determination surpassed that of any man in her domain. She emerged as a formidable force in aiding the less fortunate. Not only was Cabrini a phenomenal woman but even in her passing, her legacy remains unparalleled, having founded an impressive array of at least sixty-seven institutions worldwide, encompassing orphanages, schools, and hospitals. She remains an extraordinary figure whose impact endures.

You cannot watch this movie and not be moved be Cabrini’s invaluable contributions to society, service to humanity and selfless love.  A thought provoking movie that at the end may leave you asking the bigger question ‘have I made a difference in someone’s life?’.

This is an exceptional film and definitely worth seeing.

Cabrini is on cinemas from Friday 8th March, 2024

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