Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Documentary Review: "The Devil and Father Amorth"

In a year of excellent documentaries, 2018 saw the release of one of my personal favorites, The Devil and Father Amorth. It is a simple documentary directed by William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist (1973), showing the ninth exorcism of an Italian woman in the village of Venafro in Italy referred to as "Cristina", performed by renowned Italian exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth.

It is divided into four parts. First, William Friedkin introduces us to himself and how he came to direct The Exorcist, as well as introducing the two main characters of the film: Father Amorth and Cristina. Second, with small camera in hand, Friedkin offers us an uninterrupted glimpse into the real exorcism of Cristina performed by Father Amorth. Third, Friedkin interviews various neurologists and psychiatrists to get their opinion on what he filmed. Lastly, it concludes with the aftermath of the event, such as the death of Father Amorth and the current state of Cristina.

What I loved about this film is what a lot of critics hated about it. One reviewer said it "feels amateurish and arguably also exploitative," while another said it was "a rather tawdry charade." I would argue that its simple and amateurish quality that makes it feel exploitative is what lends it credibility, as too much polish would almost certainly be cause for suspicion. The director clearly had in mind to film a real exorcism, 45 years after he filmed the most famous fictional movie (based on a true story) about exorcism in the history of film. He sought to document it, ask some questions about it, and open it up for discussion.

Though the documentary is only a mere 69 minutes long, it is unsettling and disturbing though interesting. It makes a strong case for the reality of demonic possession, just by documenting the case; one of 500,000 such cases in Italy alone on a yearly basis. Though I am typically against exploiting exorcisms, as they depict real human suffering, I believe this was done in a respectful way with the proper permission taken to depict the events. For those interested in the topic of demonic possession, I highly recommend this film. (Currently available in various streaming services, including Netflix.)