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Libra Nos (2017) Review

Libra Nos is a 2017 documentary about the practice of exorcism and people’s issues of everyday life: the contrasts between ancient traditions and modern habits.

Movies have long made the practice of religious exorcism one of great visual entertainment, where victims become possessed by powerful demons, servants of Satan looking to steal souls and wreak terrible havoc. Naturally, it’s the stuff of fiction and a thriving subgenre of horror, however for the devout religious, it is anything but, many believing they, or someone they love, has been attacked and are controlled by the purest of evil. Federica Di Giacomo‘s Libra Nos (English: Deliver Us) is not a horror film, but it is filled with disturbing imagery, a decidedly stark documentary that raises a lot of equally distressing questions.

In Italy, people make pilgrimages to get a chance to see Father Cataldo Migliazzo, a Vatican-sanctioned priest who offers salvation to those who attend his service and a chance to be free of the demons for those in attendance who claim to be possessed. He is one of a growing number priests who are trained and practice actual exorcisms, and while you might already scoffing at the notion, it is in fact a very real phenomenon and one that is apparently on the rise. At his church, the flocks take it seriously and they wait in long lines for a chance to have Migliazzo wash away the evil, sometimes writhing on the floor, spitting and cursing, often weeping and in need of others to hold them down. Is it real? It’s a question you’re meant to ask, and for those seen on screen, it certainly seems so.

There’s no doubt that some of these people have some form of mental illness, and in fact, a few of them even take to thinking so on their own, one claiming it’s either Satan that has embraced her or she’s gone mad. As a skeptical viewer, it’s hard to believe it could be anything but, many of them showing obvious symptoms, but Di Giacomo isn’t interested in exploring possible alternatives for behavior, only to expose that what we are seeing is in fact happening, and for everyone involved, authentic. She seems to understand the principle behind the observer effect, simply that observing something necessarily changes that phenomenon, and it’s hard not to imagine that the subjects on camera are not fundamentally aware of the camera and in respect to it, alter their behavior. Di Giacomo somehow gets an all access pass and puts her camera right up and into everything but miraculously, not a single person in the movie seems aware that it’s there. No one looks at it, no one speaks to it. No one even seems to notice it. Di Giacomo is never seen and never says a word, and for all that, the film sort of has a narrative quality to it, even as it gets frustrating as we long for someone to explain or at least comment and guide us more closely to the subject. We do come to know more deeply about a few of the suffering and it helps in humanizing them, yet we are left entirely as observers, forced to take on faith what we see and judge for ourselves. That’s most assuredly the point.

Still, there is a remarkably compelling magnetism to the experience. Migliazzo is portrayed as a man of routine, spending his days and evenings in service to his practice, working almost casually in ridding evil from his followers, even on the phone, a scene that in any other context would seem like something from a Woody Allen movie. Here, however, it serves to illustrate exactly what his and others (lots it appears by the end of the film) like him have become, a source of therapy of sorts, and maybe alternatives (for better or probably worse) beyond medical help for mild to sometimes extreme dissociation and perhaps a host of other issues. Libra Nos is a curious statement about a supremely strange and escalating phenomenon that shines no light on causes or solutions, only its existence and the people on both sides who struggle with it, and that alone makes it one of the more troubling documentaries in years.

Libra Nos (2017) Review

Movie description: Libra Nos is a 2017 documentary about the practice of exorcism and people's issues of everyday life: the contrasts between ancient traditions and modern habits.

Director(s): Federica Di Giacomo

Genre: Documentary

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