Deliver Us (Liberami), which won Best Film in the 73rd Venice Film Festival’s Horizons section, is an Italian feature documentary looking at two Sicilian priests and the growing need for their expertise as exorcists from within the Catholic Church.
Documentaries like this don’t come round too often, traditionally attended by art house enthusiasts with specialist areas of interest. Not that watching an aging priest perform exorcisms lacks entertainment, but for most Deliver Us will prove a strange viewing experience not quickly forgotten.
Father Cataldo’s role in this unorthodox documentary is both one of marriage guidance counsellor, patient listener and first contact for anything else biblical. That director Federica Di Giacomo focuses on Father Cataldo and his writhing, spitting and cursing flock without judgement makes it feel quite intrusive. Possession it seems is rife within the diocese and watching ceremony after ceremony both at home, over the telephone and on consecrated ground never diminishes your experience.
Talking head interviews with the possessed turn out to be rather mundane affairs, where they consider their possession no more trouble than missing a hair appointment. Others blame the church for a lack of support during an obviously trying time, whilst some act up on street corners for the camera. Exorcisms performed on houses are also fully explored as Father Cataldo actively advocates the burning of any articles which he suggests might contain spirits. His exhaustion at a time in life when he should be retiring is evident and yet he remains selflessly consumed.
For the cynic Deliver Us provides numerous opportunities to deride and denounce as people scream, spit, growl and swear their way through makeshift exorcisms. There is talk of psychological conditions, psychosomatic symptoms and the power of belief. Others imply that possession, or at least the appearance of it, is preferable to facing up to an awkward truth or unpleasant mistake in life. Of the three individuals which Giacomo focuses on each seems to have other factors which play into their sense of demonic possession. He observes, interviews, keeps his distance and importantly never forces an opinion on you.
Some might say in this modern age that the idea of spiritual beings taking over a body is ridiculous, but judging by Deliver Us such notions are alive and well. Escalating requests for exorcisms have seen a recruitment drive happen throughout the Catholic Church worldwide. They are on the rise in Spain, France and the USA if Giacomo’s facts are to be believed. People like Father Cataldo are overworked and in need of urgent support as workloads continue to increase. However despite this revelation the one thing which most will take away is how matter of fact everyone is about it.
Priests discussing exorcisms over lunch in Rome talk honestly about training courses and an upsurge in the necessity for more exorcists whilst tucking into pudding. As for the poor souls who buck and holler, dribble and curse while submerged in holy water there exists no easy answers. Belief in good or evil is a powerful thing while an overriding need for faith through salvation can make people do strange things. Deliver Us may offer an insight into a world you might not care for, but what it never presumes to offer up is a straight answer.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Federica Di Giacomo
Written by: n/a
Starring: Father Cataldo
Released: 2016 / Genre: Documentary
Country: Italy/France / IMDB
DELIVER US (Liberami) is in cinemas October 27 and on DVD October 30