La Piedad
2022 / 85m - Spain
Piety poster

Few directors made such a big impression with their first film than Eduardo Casanova. Skins maybe wasn't for everyone, but it sure left an indelible mark on all who watched it. If making that first film is tough, getting the second one out is probably even trickier, so I was delighted to hear Piety [La Piedad] was in the making, assuring Casanova's wasn't just some one-hit-wonder. And boy did he not disappoint. The parallels with Skins are obvious, but there's also plenty to differentiate it from Casanova's first feature film. In other words, if you liked Casanova's first, you know what to do.

screencap of Piety [La Piedad]

With Skins, Casanova bombarded himself as the king of the grotesque, though he did it with so much flair and gusto, and made it so pink and purple that it was almost impossible to compare it to any other film out there. Piety confirms that's very much his signature style (for now at least), though Casanova is smart enough to do more than simply chase down the appeal of his first success. While Piety is most definitely a Casanova film, it's also quite different from Skins and it feels like a logical progression of an artist getting more comfortable with his work.

That's not to say Piety is any more accessible. For his second feature, Casanova pits the toxic relationship between a single mother and her only son against the North Korean regime. As outlandish as that sounds, there are two parallel stories here (the mother/son one taking up the brunt of the runtime) that neatly overlap and create one cohesive storyline. It's a pretty original analogy (I sure never heard it before) and it makes some apt points along the way, though it's safe to say you don't have to expect anything too nuanced or revelatory. I doubt this film will send anyone on a soul-searching quest.

Lily's husband left her to raise her son Mateo all by herself, and so she kept tight control over his life. They do everything together, Mateo isn't even allowed to venture outside alone. When they both get sick, they go to the hospital, where Lily finds out that Mateo has a brain tumor. Her world comes tumbling down, but she won't stop at anything to save her son. Meanwhile, in North Korea, a soldier's children are poisoned by the regime. The parents are so fed up with their living conditions that they decide to flee the country, but escaping won't be easy.

screencap of Piety [La Piedad]

If you think the premise is a little weird, just wait until you see the film in motion. Casanova's excessively stylized world of pink is a pleasure to behold. Not as overtly maximalist as you may think, there's a fair bit of minimalism going on in the set designs, but it would be wrong to call this anything but maximalist cinema. The details are immaculate, the camera work is meticulous and the color story is just mad, especially when you consider he went for a similar effect in Skins. I love directors with a clear visual signature, and Casanova's is one of the brightest in recent years.

The soundtrack is also interesting, though not quite on the same level as the cinematography. The inclusion of some North Korean folk songs is nice and the somewhat distraught score coupled with the heightened focus on sound effects works well, but it's not like this hasn't been done before. The music does its job and adds to the mood of the film, but I have to admit that I didn't remember much of it afterward, which is never a sign of greatness. I think there's enough potential to do more with it, but that's just me nitpicking over a pet peeve.

The performances are strong, as long as you don't go in expecting anything too realistic or natural. They are just as stylized as the rest of the film, each character being very strictly defined, sporting excessive traits. Angela Molina and Manel Llinell both gave very spirited performances and the tension between them is tangible, which was crucial to underline the central theme of the film. The rest of the cast is pretty good too, though their roles are less impactful, as they are truly secondary characters, always standing in the shadows of the two leads.

screencap of Piety [La Piedad]

I liked the inclusion of the North Korean elements, though the parallel itself may be the weakest part of the film, as the North Korean segments feel a little underdeveloped. With them, Casanova is able to make his point, I'm just not sure if it was a point worth making. I'm not too bothered by that, as the resulting film is all of the more unique because of the outlandish premise, but those wanting something to chew on once the end credits are rolling may be disappointed. If you're just here for the experience, then you have nothing to worry about.

Piety is exactly the confirmation I was looking for. It strengthens Casanova's signature while also showing the necessary versatility to ensure a prolonged career in film. The cinematography is crazy, the performances are all-in and the score is fitting. Add to that a wildly entertaining and unique premise, and you have a film that lingers. If he commits, I think Casanova could be around for quite a while, but even if he bows out now, he has two films to his name that will be fondly remembered by all those who appreciate cinema that dares to be different from the norm.