The director of this Italian documentary, Valentina Pedicini, died in November, 2020, of liver cancer. That’s a terrible shame for a variety of reasons. Pedicini was, in her too-short career, a remarkably intrepid documentarian. In her 2010 “My Marlboro City,” she investigated the cigarette smuggling trade in her hometown, Brindisi. For “From the Depths” (2013), she accompanied a female miner who works more than 1,500 feet below sea level.
“Faith,” her final film, presented in wide-screen black-and-white, kicks off with an explanatory text, telling of how in 1998 a man the audience will know only as The Master founded a monastery of sorts and peopled it with so-called Warriors of Light. These are monks and mothers trained in martial arts, fighting “against demons,” ostensibly “in the name of the Father.”
We see these warriors, 20 years after the formation of the group, all dressed in white, under a strobe light, doing a rave-style dance workout. We watch them intone “The Lord’s Prayer” and “Hail Mary” in unison. We see them sharing a pasta dinner, at the end of which all the diners lick their plates clean. We see their shared bathroom and watch them shaving their heads.
It’s not long before one starts to wonder just what “Father” these ascetics are working in the name of. One meeting revolves around Gabriele, a monk who has apparently either flirted with or actually bedded every woman in the group. He declines to resign (his behavior is discouraged by the group) and halfheartedly promises to work on a confession. As for The Master himself, he browbeats the women, telling one, “You don’t deserve to be a warrior.”
Pedicini structures the movie as an oblique narrative rather than an exposé. And “Faith” is all the more disturbing for that. Clearly this distinctive filmmaker was just getting started.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. Watch on Film Movement+.