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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Federica Di Giacomo's "Liberami" Wins Best Film in the Orizzonti Section of the Venice Film Festival

Federica Di Giacomo's film Liberami takes home the Golden Lion in the "Orizzonti" section of the 73rd Venice Film Festival.

Liberami is a story about the practice of exorcism. The contrasts between ancient traditions and modern habits meet in this powerful documentary. It has been described as "disturbing and hilarious at the same time". Although, I found it to be more disturbing than hilarious because there is great suffering by people desperately searching for answers. However, there are some much-needed moments of comedy relief. It's a film that makes you think and assess your own beliefs and spirituality.

Every year, in Italy, and throughout the world for that matter, more and more people feel possessed by the devil. The Catholic Church responds to this phenomenon by training more exorcist priests. The veteran Father Cataldo is one of them. The film's focus is on four characters- Gloria, Enrico, Anna and Giulia, who follow Father Cataldo’s mass and look for answers and a cure for their inner demons.

Director Federica Di Giacomo doesn't waste any time presenting the terror of an exorcism. The film opens with a woman sitting on a chair in a chapel as Father Cataldo anoints her with holy water. He then puts his hand on her head and prays. The woman immediately begins to scream obscenities in the voice of Satan. "Leave me alone. She's mine now. Leave me alone."

Father Cataldo visits a church in Palermo. There is a long line of people waiting to see him. Many are turned away and will have to wait until tomorrow. When the faithful get their chance to speak with him, they talk to him like he's a psychologist rather than a priest. They blame their misfortunes and bad luck on Satan. In some cases, Father agrees. In one case of a depressed housewife, he tells her that her problem is more likely psychological than spiritual. He asks one man who is convinced his bad luck is spiritual, "Did you try to live in the grace of God at least when you could?" The man replies, "I try, Father, but it's hard."

Later, the priest sees a woman with a nagging cough. Father Cataldo sits with her and her family. The woman is clearly uneasy and fidgeting. As he starts to pray with them, she visibly becomes more uneasy. As he puts his hand on her head, she begins to lose control. The family members gather around her and try to help keep her still. She falls to the floor and he anoints her with holy water. She weeps, they all say a Hail Mary and she seems to be healed.

Father Cataldo then holds a public mass for all of these people and during his message to Satan to leave them alone, a boy begins to have outbursts and then it's as if the priest is speaking directly to him. "Go away Satan." And the boy screams uncontrollably. Father Cataldo responds, "Be quiet. It's God ordering you to leave." The yelling continues. "Get the cross," says Father. A cross is then held over him while Father Cataldo continues to drive the devil away. Then it happens to others and some are forced to retreat to a designated room where they are all trying to recover and regain control. At times, it's tough to watch. Whatever the cause of these people losing control, they are undoubtedly suffering very much.

The director Federica Di Giacomo said of her film: "The film is the result of a lengthy research. A strange, postmodern puzzle had begun to form in my mind, one in which the exorcist is a new healer, often considered the last resort after a Via Crucis of magicians, psychiatrists, and alternative medicine, metaphor for a society in which it is important to find a rapid and conclusive cure. Even at the cost of giving yourself over to someone who calls you “Satan.” I decided to tell this story from the viewpoint of someone who experiences it every day. Because exorcists are nominated by bishops and their life is completely transformed. The so-called “possessed” are just ordinary people drawn to the Church in a critical moment of their life. Their experience vastly differs from imagined horror and takes on a complexity in which there is a place even for irony."

Liberami is available through Festival Scope. It's a tough film to watch due to the subject matter but that only gives testament to the talent of the director, Federica Di Giacomo. She made a complex, original film. Congratulations to her on a much-deserved award.

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