Seeking Relief

Amos Lassen

Lia (Désirée Giorgetti) once had a strong, passionate relationship with her lover Viktor (Ivan Franek), but a series of traumatic events sends her into a dark depression. She desperately wants to find a cure and she visits her old Aunt Agata (Anna Bonasso) at her creepy 18th century villa in Mason, a small Italian village living off of magic, popular beliefs, traditional culture, myths and legends. 

Agata is quite passionate about psychomagic and popular medicine and is the local healer who has learned these methods from Fernando (Alejandro Jodorowsky), her dead Chilean husband. Here in Mason, Lia is taken on a powerful psychomagic journey to liberate her unconscious mind from its emotional turmoil. Co-directors Giulia Brazzale and Luca Immesi are

inspired by the philosophy of and featuring an appearance by Chilean director and cult icon Jodorowsky. This film explores maternity, psychomagic, madness, superstition and popular beliefs.

While it is a good film on its own, it  never reaches the same category of strangeness as Jodorowsky’s films did. It enters in and goes out of states of madness, but it never gets near Jodorowsky’s ideas. But that is another story.

Lia is already seeing Dr. Guerrieri (Cosimo Cinieri), and her issues don’t entirely relate to her extremely domineering boyfriend Viktor. The doctor recommends she return to Mason, the village where she spent summers as a child, to visit her aunt who has her own way of helping people to cope with their demons, although when Viktor joins her, it looks like little more than witchcraft to him.
Psychomagic seems to be about tailoring the ritual directly to the mental malady, although it’s not specifically defined within the story (a book by Jodorowsky appears at one point, and the man himself makes a cameo appearance as Agata’s late husband). The film’s use of Jodorowsky’s theories are done by example rather than lecture, and while they are a sort of low-key oddity, it’s interesting to see them work. It gives us something to think about in terms of the power of symbolic language.

The film has Lia on the edge of complete collapse for something like 80% of its running time, and she manages to keep it fascinating. She does a fine job of seemingly regressing to childhood in some scenes without it being the only way that she looks haggard and broken. It’s an impressive job of moving away from the line that separates sanity and desperation.
Viktor’s an overbearing bully of a boyfriend, but Franek initially manages to capture a vibe where he and Lia might just have a kinky relationship, and there’s also a vibe to how Franek plays Viktor with people who aren’t Lia and Agata that makes him both more human and in some ways more monstrous for it. Things go slow at times. The film is only 90 minutes long but often seems to drag and over the course of the picture, we get a lot of examples of Viktor’s cruelty and Agata’s kindness, but it often seems like more repetition without actual new insight.

For all its stumbles, though, “Ritual” does a lot of things right especially regarding the underlying concept of how the process acts on the human brain and the character dynamics around Lia are both quite good. The bringing them together is occasionally a little rough, but what gets made this way is still at least interesting. The film is handsome, austere and weighty and plays more like a European arthouse film than a work of surrealist art.

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