Ever since The Exorcist, William Friedkin’s seminal adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel, demonic possession has been a rich subject for horror movie directors. Bucking the trend for fictional accounts of exorcism is Deliver Us, a documentary by Italian film-maker Federica di Giacomo.
It is shot in Sicily and chronicles the work of Fr Cataldo Migliazzo, a granite-faced 80-year-old who doesn’t suffer fools (or possessed parishioners) gladly. The film comes amid reports of huge rises in the number of people across the world demanding exorcisms.
The opening moments, in which people mob the priest’s assistants to book an appointment, is an alarming snapshot of a global problem. And a coda makes explicit the point that a surge in exorcism requests is not limited to the island of Sicily.
Fr Cataldo visits a conference on the phenomenon at the Vatican, where priests from a range of countries gather to relate their multitude of possession stories.
There’s strange comedy in Fr Cataldo’s carrying out exorcisms over the phone. Though when we see previously quiet, unassuming people screeching and spitting, and either being restrained roughly or falling suddenly to the floor, it doesn’t seem quite so funny.
One of these sufferers, an otherwise mild-mannered middle-aged woman, says: “If I’m not mad then I must be possessed.” This, of course, is the crux of the matter. The Church’s critics say that exorcism is a dangerous practice that sees priests working where doctors or psychiatrists should be. For Catholics, possession is not something to be so easily dismissed.
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