Sog.: Augusto Genina, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Fausto Tozzi, da un’idea di Elvira Psorulla. Scen.: Augusto Genina. F.: G.R. Aldo. M.: Edmondo Lozzi. Scgf.: Virgilio Marchi. Mus.: Antonio Veretti. Int.: Ines Orsini (Maria Goretti), Mauro Matteucci (Alessandro Serenelli), Giovanni Martella (Luigi Goretti), Assunta Radico (Assunta Goretti), Francesco Tomolillo (Giovanni), Rubi Dalma (contessa Teneroni), Domenico Viglione Borghese (dottore), Michele Malaspina (conte Teneroni), Maria Luisa Landi (Lucia), Ida Paoloni (Teresa). Prod.: Carlo José Bassoli, Renato Bassoli per Bassoli film, Arx Film. 35mm. D.: 108’. Bn.
Cielo sulla palude is a film about the circumstances that led to the canonization of little Maria Goretti, who was murdered at the age of fourteen by the boy whose sexual advances she had resisted. These factors made me fear the worst. Hagiography is already a dangerous exercise in itself, but, granted, there are some saints made to appear on stained-glass windows and others who seem destined for the painted plaster of Saint-Sulpice Church, whatever their standing in paradise might be. […] It should not be surprising, therefore, that, at least in France, this saint’s life has disappointed the Christians even more than it has the non-believers. The former don’t find in it the requisite religious apologetics, and the latter don’t find in it the necessary moral apologetics. All that we have here is the senseless crushing of a poor child’s life – there are no unusual mitigating circumstances. […] But it is to Genina’s credit that he made a hagiography that doesn’t prove anything, above all not the sainthood of the saint. Herein lies not only the film’s artistic distinction but also its religious one. Heaven over the Marshes is a rarity: a good Catholic film.
What was Genina’s starting point? It was not simply to reject all the ornament that comes with the subject matter – the religious symbolism and, it goes without saying, the supernatural element of traditional hagiographies […]. He set out to achieve much more than this: his goal was to create a phenomenology of sainthood. […] The question raised in film as in theology is the retroactiveness of eternal salvation, since, obviously, a saint does not exist as a saint in the present: he is simply a being who becomes one and who, moreover, risks eternal damnation until his death. Genina’s bias in favor of realism made him go as far as to prohibit in any of his images the supposition of his protagonist’s ‘sainthood’, so afraid was he of betraying the spirit of his endeavor. […]
This is why Cielo sulla palude will be disconcerting to viewers who are used to an apologetics that confuses rhetoric with art and sentiment with grace. In a way, Genina plays devil’s advocate by playing servant to the only filmic reality possible.
André Bazin, A Saint Becomes a Saint Only After the Fact (Heaven over the Marshes), in Bazin at Work: Major Essays and Reviews From the Forties and Fifties, edited by Bert Cardullo, Routledge, New York-London 1997