Libera Nos (Liberami), Federica Di Giacomo, Italy, 2016, 97’ OV with Spanish subtitles
The contemporary idea of possession by evil spirits has been forged mainly through film: people walking backwards, green slime, crosses as weapons, children with strange expressions, stigmata and haunted houses. But what is the reality nowadays, and within the Catholic Church, of exorcisms, and of the experience of people who believe and feel they are possessed?
Winner of the Orizzonti prize for best film at the Venice Film Festival last year, this documentary has been one of the leading titles on the festival circuit. It’s rare that we have the opportunity to witness the day-to-day life of an exorcist and their worshippers. Father Cataldo is one of those astonishing people who seem like they’re straight out of a Fellini movie — his earthy, attentive and patient nature has turned him into the most famous exorcist on Sicily — and his day-to-day life is worlds away from the Hollywood version: there are no cars shrouded in mist, nor rooms at the end of the staircase nor fights to the death with the evil spirit. The ‘devil’ of the 21st century is much more every-day, and Father Cataldo visits, talks, leads mass and performs collective exorcisms in his small parish in this region of southern Italy. This is when questions arise, and when the film goes way beyond a simple portrait of demonic possessions: To what extent is the thing we call a ‘demon’ nothing more than the need to find someone to tend to the disorder and fear provoked by the world? To what extent are these cases mere cries which show the fragility of the human being, whether believers or not, and whether they know how to name their fears or not?
The film follows Gloria, Enrico, Anna and Giulia on their pilgrimage to Father Cataldo's mass. They all seek an explanation for the feeling that consumes them. They all seek liberation, here and now, from that fear, that weight, that burden. The result is a documentary which blurs the lines between ancient and modern, between sacred and secular, and which directly addresses a huge question: To what extent, in our time, are our minds and bodies free?