Nancy Savoca’s Household Saints: Once Lost, Now Found

Last Friday, January 12, some FF2 members and I attended a screening of 1993’s Household Saints at the IFC Center. The film was followed by a Q&A with director Nancy Savoca and producer Rich Guay, who spoke about everything from behind-the-scenes anecdotes to their fight to reclaim their own “missing” movie.

Household Saints is a sprawling epic of a film. The movie announces its Homeric intent from its opening scene, during which a wise elder narrates to his captivated family: “It happened by the grace of God that Joseph Santangelo won his wife in a card game.” As she explained in the Q&A, Nancy Savoca lifted this line straight from the source material for the film: Francine Prose’s novel of the same name. We also learned in the Q&A that this opening was not planned—Nancy had the idea for the bookend, storytelling scenes quite last minute, also “by the grace of God.” The idea of retelling a story that has already been told countless times adds to the film’s already overflowing charm, its religiosity, and its endearing, fairytale nature. In short, the beginning sets the scene for the delicious treat which will be enjoyed over the next two hours.

Household Saints tells the story of two generations of the Santangelo family of Little Italy. It starts with Joseph “winning” his wife Catherine in a pinochle game and ends with the saintly miracles of the couple’s daughter, Teresa. I won’t completely spoil the film, as anyone near New York City still has the opportunity to catch a showing of it at the IFC Center for the next week, but I found Household Saints to be a delight.

Click image to enlarge.

The actors, including Tracey Ullman and Lili Taylor, deliver incredible performances as mother and daughter in a close yet strained family. The visuals of the film are striking, especially the many, many scenes of cooking and eating food (both mouth-watering and revolting dishes alike). Perhaps the strongest piece of all is the film’s comedy. Nancy managed to create a side-splitting portrait of Italian-American life in the 50s, while at the same time treating her subjects with the utmost compassion. When answering a question after the screening, she spoke about how important it was to her to show these characters, no matter their behavior, as nuanced individuals deserving of respect. She treats them gently, and so the audience comes to want that same gentleness for them as well. 

Nancy and Rich together are on the board of directors of Missing Movies.

I would encourage anyone reading this to watch Household Saints at their earliest convenience. However, unfortunately, they would have a very difficult time tracking it down. In their Q&A, Nancy and Rich also spoke at length about “missing movies” (of which Household Saints is one). Nancy and Rich together are on the board of directors of Missing Movies; an organization which describes itself as empowering “filmmakers, distributors, archivists, and others to locate lost materials, clear rights, and advocate for policies and laws to make the full range of our cinema history available to all.”

In the age of streaming, the fight to keep titles accessible is now more important than ever.

In the age of streaming, the fight to keep titles accessible is now more important than ever. Each month when Netflix and other streamers clear house, media fans completely lose access to certain titles. These films disappear from the internet completely, and remain elusive to even the most dedicated searchers until the next mega-streamer adds them back into the rotation. Household Saints itself qualified as a missing movie for a long time, until Nancy and Rich only recently succeeded in finding and restoring the film.

Though the story of Household Saints has a happy ending, that is not the case for many beautiful, unwatchable films across the canon. Both Nancy and Rich are fighting to change this for as many titles as possible. We as cinema lovers applaud them both as well as the entire Missing Movies team for empowering filmmakers and putting film back into the hands of film lovers. Household Saints is a spectacular delight—both as sweet and fiery as the Santangelo family’s sausage recipe.

© Reese Alexander (1/20/24) – Special for FF2 Media

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

Learn more about the Missing Movies mission on their website.

Find the remaining showtimes for Household Saints at the IFC Center here.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Featured Photo: Tracey Ullman and Vincent D’Onofrio in the film HOUSEHOLD SAINTS (1993). Photo Credit: United Archives GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: D1N5A0

Middle Photo: Judith Malina in the film HOUSEHOLD SAINTS (1993). Photo Credit: United Archives GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: FWKWN9

Bottom Photo: Director Nancy Savoca on the set of the film HOUSEHOLD SAINTS (1993). Photo Credit: JONES ENTERTAINMENT / RGR Collection / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: DXN919

Tags: Francine Prose, Household Saints, Lili Taylor, Missing Movies, Nancy Savoca, Reese Alexander, Tracey Ullman

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Reese Alexander is currently a student at Barnard College, where she studies English literature, creative writing, and French. Reese enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published in multiple campus publications, including Quarto, Echoes, The Barnard Bulletin, and The Columbia Federalist. Reese is most passionate about medieval literature, as she believes it illustrates the contributions of women artists throughout the centuries.
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