Forget what you know or what you think you know of exorcism, based om what you’ve seen in the movies – specifically The Exorcist. Here you will find no heads spinning nor will you see satanic messages being scratched into the flesh of the possessed individual. You will also NOT bear witness to people being levitated or violently thrown around the room by demonic forces, and there will definitely not be a no holds barred showdown between a servant of god and the dark lord himself. Instead, Federica Di Giacomo’s film, Deliver Us (Liberami) is intent on showing the everyday, real world applications for which this sacred ritual is utilized. The central figure of the film is Father Cataldo Migliazzo of Palermo , Sicily. He is a well known exorcist, which is why many people seek him out for spiritual counsel and are often willing to travel great distances for it. He is seen throughout the film offering spiritual assistance in closed sessions as well as larger masses during which he delivers the exorcism rites. The film also allows us a glimpse into the lives of a few of the people to whom he “delivers salvation”.
This was not a particularly easy film for me to watch, because the priest’s antics appeared to be more theatrical than spiritual. It reminded me of traveling tent revivals and charlatan faith healers. I found myself waiting for Di Giacomo to actually catch them planting ringers among the parishioners in order to better sell their shtick. Some of the people they focused on, who were seeking exorcisms, seemed as if they would have truly benefited more from psychological treatment. As a person who continues to battle depression and has known people who suffer from mental illness, I became incensed that the only possibility that Father Cataldo seemed to offer was that demons were the root cause of their mental afflictions. It made the priest seem even more like snake oil salesmen in instances where he insisted that these people’s problems arose due to a lack of personal faith, or in the instance where it was a child, his mother’s lack of faith. Never was it posited that psychology or psychiatry were viable options…nope only complete and total faith. In the opening of the film, people are seen waiting, as if in an emergency room, for a chance to be “received” by Father Cataldo. Some of the people becoming upset by the Father’s triage system for how he prioritized who he would see and when. There is also the rather informal manner in which some of these exorcisms take place. In one instance he is actually performing the rites over the phone to the “possessed” individual on the other end, and as he concludes the ritual, he casually wishes the person and their family a Merry Christmas. And in another instance a preist is seen smirking during the exorcism, as the “possessed” woman acts out. One woman had visited an number of priests and not one of them agreed on the level of the “possession” she was enduring.
Instead of seeking out therapy or treatment, many of these people subject themselves to short exorcism rites or larger group exorcism masses. These holy men wield so much power and influence over these devout and faithful people and they appear to do it very irresponsibly and with a sense of inflated ego. And what ‘s more troubling is the fact that the Vatican is training more priests so that exorcisms will become even more widely available. Hell, pretty soon you may be able to get one in your local diocese. It reminded me of a portion of a speech Al Pacino gave towards the end of the film Devil’s Advocate. “Did you know there are more students in law school than there are lawyers walking the Earth? We’re coming out, guns blazing!” Now think of that in relation to priests who are learned in the rituals versus those currently being trained in the rites of exorcism, because it may soon be a very similar situation. So instead of going to seek treatment or therapy, your parish priest will question your faith and then suggest that you regularly subject yourself to an archaic ritual to make everything “all better”.
I don’t always find it particularly easy to review documentaries due to the obvious differences between this kind of film, which is supposed to captivate the audience while trying to be informative, and a feature with a narrative structure that is primarily meant to be entertaining. One particular difficulty I had here is the lack of additional contextual information on a case by case basis, in reference to those undergoing “exorcism”. This film consists of footage resembling that which would be shot during participant observation for an anthropological study. The viewer is basically a bystander or” fly on the wall”, as it were. Therefore all the information about these people must be picked up on the fly as events unfold, as there are no further in depth “one on one” interviews with anyone to provide additional background. Of course Di Giacomo may have deliberately avoided doing so, because people who are camera conscious tend to embellish on stories or alter their natural behavior, sometimes unintentionally.
Whether this film was intent onto extolling the virtues of employing exorcism as a n everyday treatment that which ails people or if it’s attempting to condemn the faith for so casually using it as a catch all or quick fix for dealing with troubled and possibly mentally ill people, isn’t necessarily clear. Di Giacomo doesn’t seem to align herself with one side or another, and perhaps it’s because she wants people to look at the unvarnished evidence in order to reach their own conclusions based on what they have just witnessed rather than being swayed by any additional material that would be considered overtly subjective. Of course by not taking a side this film may not properly evoke the intended, even necessary response in the viewer, since the exorcisms, as they take place in the film, are not exciting and visceral as they would be in a Hollywood film, and are subdued or even mundane in comparison.
While I was able to pick up on what seemed to be a recurring trend throughout, which I found incredibly troubling, some may be lost in what could be a rather repetitive film. Now for anyone who has an interest in looking beyond the sensationalized Hollywood version of exorcism, this film is worth watching. Because this film does serve to demystify a religious practice few understand or are truly knowledgeable about, much beyond what they’ve seen in horror films. Not only might it open their eyes to the reality of exorcism, but it may also provide a glimpse of something else that is truly disturbing about the way they are currently practiced. 6 / 10
DELIVER US will be in UK cinemas October 27th and available on DVD October 30th #DELIVERUSFILM
Director: Federica Di Giacomo
Writers: Andrea Zvetkov Sanguigni, Federica Di Giacomo
Featuring: Father Cataldo Migliazzo