×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Libera Nos’

A couple of exorcist priests in Sicily reinforce their flock’s psychological damage in this chilling documentary about a practice far more widespread than we think.

With:
Father Cataldo Migliazzo. (Italian dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4728946/

Who doesn’t love a good movie exorcism? Demonic possession offers titillation with a whiff of the ridiculous, perfect for dramatic representation in horror films and novels. So when Federica Di Giacomo turns the cameras on exorcisms in Palermo, it feels pathetic in its tawdriness. Then you think about the deeply disturbed people whose psyches are being corrupted by sham artists, and the pathos turns to anger. By the end of “Libera Nos” (Latin for “deliver us”), that anger turns to fury as Di Giacomo erases any misconception that the Vatican might censure these exorcising Sicilian priests once they get a load of the nonsense they’re peddling. Far from it: The Church is churning out exorcists as fast as it can. The documentary’s chilling coda is what really gives “Libera Nos” its power, and Venice’s top prize in the Horizons section guarantees international festival audiences will get a glimpse of this outrageous embrace of ignorance.

This isn’t a film with talking heads (nor spinning ones), though some of those involved do informally speak to the camera. Visually, the style is flexible, well-composed when possible but often most preoccupied with getting close enough to the action, and if that means bringing the camera down to the floor as a woman writhes about, so be it. There is a repetitiveness to certain scenes, and some audiences will likely find elements exploitative, though the real exploitation comes from the priests, with their mumbo-jumbo about possession when what their duped parishioners really need is therapy and meds.

Franciscan Father Cataldo Migliazzo is the chief culprit of the film, although Di Giacomo is careful not to vilify him directly. As one of Sicily’s most famous exorcists, his ministrations are sought from all over by people claiming demons have taken up residence in their souls. Supplicants are all ages, and appear to be from the middle as well as lower classes. Father Cataldo and fellow exorcist Father Carmine splash them with holy water, cover their heads with priestly stoles, and lay hands on them in ceremonies that take more from Pentecostal denominations than from the Roman Catholic Church. Sometimes though, when Father Cataldo can’t actually get to his flock, he’ll perform a mini-exorcism via mobile phone, adding a, “Happy Christmas, and best wishes to your husband,” at the end that makes the ridiculousness of it all tip into outright absurdity.

The problem here is that the people calling on these priests aren’t Linda Blairs playing at being Regan; they’re individuals suffering from schizophrenia, depression, and a host of personality disorders, and they’re not going to get better by being told the reason they’re possessed is because their parents don’t have strong enough faith. No one Di Giacomo films gets better, though some claim to temporarily be rid of demons after the priests’ ministrations. The whole concept feels so medieval that it’s possible to lull yourself into thinking these things only happen on the fringes of the Church, but no: A final scene at an exorcists conference in the Vatican itself shows that the practice is growing steadily under official sanction, and exorcisms are as available in Yonkers as they are in small Sicilian dioceses.

This is an uncomfortable film to watch, knowing that these troubled souls are being steered away from mental health professionals and into the hands of witch doctors who happen to be ordained priests. Di Giacomo largely sticks to a limited cast of characters, from a blonde woman who tries not to be out of her house for too long for fear her demon will make her do things in public, to a tattooed and pierced drug addict desperately in need of psychiatric rehab. Surely a few are performing ever so slightly for the camera – claiming to be possessed is one thing, claiming to be possessed and agreeing to be filmed is another – yet the frequency with which the director returns to these individuals does make this alternate reality feel almost matter-of-fact. The documentary wisely avoids questioning beliefs, but it does force audiences to question how those responsible for shepherding the faithful use their influence, for good or bad. And while Di Giacomo maintains a veneer of neutrality, clearly Father Cataldo should be brought up on charges for endangering those seeking his assistance.

Film Review: 'Libera Nos'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Horizons), Sept. 6, 2016. Running time: 90 MIN. (Original title: “Liberami”)

Production: (Documentary – Italy-France) An I Wonder Pictures (in Italy) release of a Mir Cinematografica, Rai Cinema presentation of a Mir Cinematografica, Rai Cinema, Opera Films production. (International sales: True Colours, Rome.) Producer: Francesco Virga. Executive producers: Davide Pagano, Francesco Virga. Co-producer: Paolo Santoni.

Crew: Director: Federica Di Giacomo. Writers: Di Giacomo, Andrea Zvetkov Sanguigni. Camera (color): Greta De Lazzaris, Carlo Sisalli. Editors: Aline Hervè, Edoardo Morabito.

With: Father Cataldo Migliazzo. (Italian dialogue)

More Film

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    John Singleton, the two-time Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as “mild.” According to TMZ, which first broke the news, [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Little Woods

    Film Review: 'Little Woods'

    So much of the recent political debate has focused on the United States’ southern border, and on the threat of illegal drugs and criminals filtering up through Mexico. But what of the north, where Americans traffic opiates and prescription pills from Canada across a border that runs nearly three times as long? “Little Woods” opens [...]

  • Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping

    Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping $60 Million (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has become a destination for television visionaries like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, with deals worth $100 million and $250 million, respectively, and top comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle ($40 million and $60 million, respectively). The streaming giant, which just announced it’s added nearly 10 million subscribers in Q1, is honing in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content