Faith review – knockout doc on a sinister Catholic kung-fu cult | Film

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This documentary will be the last film we see from the Italian director Valentina Pedicini who died last month tragically young – aged 42 – from liver cancer. And what an extraordinary film it is, opening with an intoxicating rave scene: a room full of lithe muscular men and women dressed all in white, some with shaved heads, dancing furiously to German techno. They are monks, disciples of the Master: the oldest man in the room, a martial arts expert who 20 years ago opened a monastery in the Italian hills where he trains “warrior monks” in Catholicism and kung fu. He is the god of his little universe.

At the start, Faith could be a quirky tale about a bunch of wacky eccentrics as it follows the monks’ daily routines and rituals: combat training, prayer, boxing lessons for teeny toddlers, a monastery meeting to discuss expelling a monk. The film is gorgeously cinematic, shot by DOP Bastian Esser in textured black and white – it looks like a Rossellini. The strictly observational, no-interview style can be a little frustrating and it doesn’t help that the monks have a roundabout, indirect way of expressing themselves. But there’s no mistaking the increasingly sinister mood.

The picture that emerges of is of emotional abuse and control. The Master dominates his acolytes, particularly the women, who are woken up in the middle of the night and summoned to his bedroom for creepy group therapy sessions – five or six at a time gathered around his bed. His workout sessions with them are power trips. His goal seems to be submission, body and soul. He pushes them until they are broken – to fuel his narcissism and ego, I’d say. It’s deeply uncomfortable film but also weirdly gripping. Now I’d like the long read version: who is the Master, and what are the stories of the monks that brought them to this way of life?

• Faith is released on 2 December on Mubi.

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Source: The Guardian
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