Deliver Us (aka Libera Mi) Documentary Review
Written by Simret Cheema-Innis
Released by Network Releasing
Directed by Federica Di Giacomo
Written by Federica Di Giacomo and Andrea Zvetkov Sanguigni
2016, 89 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 30th October 2017
Deliver Us/Liberami is both alarming and in some cases, a heart-warming insight into the world of the exorcist and the ‘fallen,’ and those who have ailments or illness bought about by demonic possession.
Director Federica Di Giacomo provides the audience with an explicit exposé, stripping away things such as interviews or talking heads and instead opting to position itself within the action from start to finish.
This is what makes the documentary so astounding because what you’re seeing is real life, and there couldn’t be a saying so true as ‘you just couldn’t write it.’ Well, in Deliver Us, you could write it, but it would never be as good as what you see in the film.
The documentary is an eye-opener, it doesn’t do anything to shield nor protect the people in the documentary, it’s unbiased and honest. What you see is what you get, there are hardly any direct questions to the participants in the film as they speak freely to the camera, or Giacomo manages to capture whichever mood or circumstance they’re in.
The film follows Father Cataldo, one of the most sought-after Exorcists in Sicily. Every day his parish is surrounded by people who are desperate to see him. In fact, he has a rule, he only sees people who generally come from outside of the city. People fight and bicker between themselves while waiting. Some are sick, keeling over or inconsolable. When behind the curtain, Father Cataldo asks standard questions, in some cases he states that it’s a psychological disposition followed by asking whether the person/family are churchgoers and give themselves to the Lord. If the answer is no, there’s usually a moment which makes you as the audience think ‘well that’s why such-and-such is possessed, no wonder the devil gotcha!’ The unsaid is the anticipated.
Every week, Father Cataldo runs a three-hour mass where deliverance is performed, the participants are selected or invited depending on the severity of their cases. Outside, before mass starts, two regular attendees speak with each other. They also appear to be occasional helpers of the service. One man explains to his female colleague that he was possessed by a sex demon who forced him to perform profane sexual acts in public. He asks her why she continues attending the mass, to which she doesn’t utter much but says that she’s been to doctors and had numerous tests including brain scans and nothing medically abnormal has ever been discovered. The man says how community mass can be dangerous.
In a brief conversation with another member of the parish as to whether she was possessed or not, the member says something to the effect of ‘you’re either possessed or crazy.’
On the one-hand, Father Cataldo’s mass provides support to those who are having domestic or personal problems, because in some cases, when members are told that they’re possessed, then publically exorcised, they feel better after the exorcism. Some are even cured for a while and an immediate resolution is provided... at least until the next time. Being possessed by the devil seems to be the answer to many things, but it’s also strange how it’s the cure for pain and suffering. To be told that it’s not you, but the devil, gives people solace in a pain that is too hard to face.
In a telling moment, another regular mass-goer attends with her sister, but after mass, a conversation with both women implies an incident which happened when they were young girls.
It kind of exposes her vulnerability, and exactly where her hysteria and possessed outbreaks derive from. At one point, one of the priests laughs during an exorcism and says that the lady is screaming like a little black cat. They’re performing the exorcism yet perhaps don’t believe that she’s really possessed by a demon. In the back office, another conversation with the priests reveals that they do in fact doubt some of the attendees, even though Father Cataldo believes in his work because ‘these people are really suffering.’
A house-blessing shows Father Cataldo haphazardly throwing holy water over expensive paintings and uttering that some of the ornaments in the house would be good for the church. He seems to pick and choose which places in the house have demonic possession, but doesn’t seem to care much, yet the people around him believe every word he says.
This is the power the Vatican (and religion in general) holds, as the priests are given the power to say what they like and people will believe them. The message is twofold; in some instances this could resolve some particularly hairy circumstances and encourage peace, but in others it’s a blatant incitement to revert some tribalistic attitude where, if called a witch, you’d be burned at the stake with no questions asked.
When Father Cataldo attends an international exorcist conference in Rome, priests speak amongst each other as if training to be an exorcist in the 21st century is in some way more than a little bizarre. Some do take a more objective view. Father Cataldo sits alone, isolated from everyone. He takes calls on his mobile, proving to be his own call centre as members of his congregation call him at all hours. It’s difficult to be judgemental towards Father Cataldo’s disposition. He supports an old-wives-tale mentality, but then at the same time cares about his work and understands the reality of people’s suffering. He is the man who picks up the phone, providing answers and anecdotes. But his congregation's answer to most problems are deliverance, whether he or the fathers believe that members are possessed or not.
It’s an alarming prospect, that in this day and age many people are claiming to be possessed, yet when you take the time to look into their personal background, there’s actually a psychological problem. The good thing is, training courses for priests to understand psychiatry and other social trends are on the rise.
Director Federica Di Giacomo’s documentary leaves a lot to the imagination. Some may feel like there are many questions to be answered and crave for talking heads. However, there might not be a need for this. Giacomo’s main aim seems to have been to expose the growing culture of exorcism and the almost unbelievable attitudes of real people who follow Catholicism and even those who do not. And Giacomo stumbled across the perfect device, using Father Cataldo to further his research on the exorcists/exorcism using him as a tool to open the grounds and tell his story. He succeeds. This is a truly insightful piece of work which I will watch again, and maybe again and again. It’s infectious viewing, mouth agape and tongue dry for the majority of the film. It's eye-opening access into a world that really confirms real life is scarier than fiction.