Ritual – Una storia psicomagica [aka. Ritual: A Psychomagic Story] (2013)
A Giulia Brazzale and Luca Immesi Film
Spoiler warning: this film deals in a subject matter of magic which is not of this world, as applied to human psychology and mentally disturbed minds. [* see below]
This 2013 psychological drama has more beauty, more magic, more evil, more inventiveness, than a dozen horror-thriller-supernatural films of the last twenty years, put end-to-end. It’s creepy, haunting and disturbing and its images live on in the mind long after the film has ended.
It would be easy to dismiss the film as a low-budget, absurdly Freudian, study of Lia, a girl with a frail temperament created out of the shock of experiencing her first period at the age of 9, and reignited as an adult in a depression that coincides with her sex-fantasy relationship with Viktor, and deepens following his sexual, physical and mental abuse of her. It would also be easy to misunderstand the film if it is meant to be experienced as a standard thriller because it’s not thrilling and it’s not scary in the conventional sense.
Where the film succeeds is in presenting a fragmented view of Lia, through a couple of incidents in her life as a child, and some indications of where her life is in the present. As the film develops it becomes obvious that the sexual games that she is playing with Viktor are confusing her, subconsciously. It all seems like consensual sexual playacting on the surface to Lia but the thing which we, the viewer sees, is that this kind of high risk physical activity has a far-reaching consequence for Lia, who has buried memories of her childhood which this series of games with Viktor releases.
The colour palette of the film is cold and uninviting. It’s almost one-dimensional in that respect except for Lia’s reaction to the colour red. But it fits, because Lia is one-dimensional and for all his angry emotions and his otherwise calm exterior, Viktor is only two-dimensional (unless he is drunk).
The first half of the film shows what leads to Lia’s first suicide attempt. The second half of the film is seen through the relationship Lia has with her Aunt, who is a healer. The bridging point is Lia and her psychiatrist (looking very Freudian), where he tells her that she needs to leave Viktor. The relationship with her psychiatrist is a little odd, because he’s more emotionally involved with her situation and mental plight, than is usually regarded as the way a real psychiatrist would behave. [If any such judgments are thought about what the reality is really like, it is important to remember that there are many different approaches by psychiatrist (and psychologists) to their patients.]
Where the film really takes off is in the second half when Lia leaves Viktor to have a holiday in the country with her Aunt. The development of the fun and games of sexual mischief into the reality of Lia’s mental frailty, lead to a mysterious second half, where the Aunt, Agata, becomes the thing that focuses our attention on Lia’s death-wish and whereas the psychiatrist in the first half failed, it is Agata, who becomes the psychiatrist, but not through talking. Agata is a healer who finds ways not thought to be acceptable to help people find a way through the pain of someone’s mental obstacle. It is the comparison of twentieth century psychological cures and old-fashioned.
More disturbing than anything else, though, is an element which indicates that the old-fashioned methods may come from powers that are not of our physical world. Are they powers from the devil or the world of cults, rituals and magic? Most of the evidence is of the latter, but the ability to judge whether Lia’s aunt is a charlatan or gets her power from the dark side, is ruined by Viktor’s contemptuous display, where he digs up the piece of fruit, which Lia and Agata have buried in a makeshift coffin, which represents the undeveloped child Viktor forced Lia to abort in the first half of the film. He smashes it into a thousand pieces.
I can’t comprehend where the writer-directors are coming from in their screenplay and what their intent is and what they hope to show to the audience. What it does is compare to different side to therapy: a more acceptable approach to illness, the normal way of viewing healing, through the medical profession; and the old way, through the kind of tribal medical approach to illness as would have existed a thousand years ago in a small village.
The aunt is shown to be more effective than the 21st-century psychiatrist. She is regarded highly by all around her. She’s no con-artist. She really helps people get well. What is unsettling are the suggestions that it is through the magic that comes from the power that Satan can give people. The subtitle is a psychomagic story, and that tells you everything. It’s the modern world versus the old world. The old world consists of powers that are scary because they are inexplicable. Anyone who has been unsettled by some of the filmed displays of psychic surgery, where organs are removed with bare hands, and no incisions, will find this equally unsettling.
Areas which it treats in a more cliched manner – than so effectively capturing the reality-dis-reality of a person affected by a severe mental illness – is the representation of the psychiatrist. But, then again, it shows him to be ineffective in his personal representation of the typical Freudian psychiatrist which is not dissimilar to the extremes of behaviour by some psychiatrists. Similarly, the over-the-top representation of Viktor, at the climax, is not over-the-top in terms of aggressive-maniacal behaviour by males which I have witnessed firsthand.
There is a magical world out there which doesn’t conform to the known realities of what most people believe and it is a scary world in which Giulia Brazzale and Luca Immesi have chosen to dabble.
This film features strong sex scenes, themes and nudity according to the Australian censorship guidelines.
* It is true that the arts can feature or be attuned to disturbing aspects of mythology which are outside of our day to day understanding of this side of life which most of us accept as reality. This representation may be well done but not particularly harmful to those who watch it. Other films, like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, 8mm, Eyes Wide Shut and Salo, represent possible human behaviour, which stems from sick minds and minds that are in partnership with the devil and demons. (Hitler’s work sits somewhere in between the two.) A work of art is a work of art and is treated as such, but not all works of art will do the mind of the recipient any good at all, and many works of art are not created by people who are fundamentally good. Nevertheless, art is separate from content, as seen most horribly through Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom.
I don’t believe that it necessarily takes a sick mind to create a work of art that is about sick minds. Certainly, it can. But be warned – not every great film, novel, painting, picture or musical work is worth the time it takes to inhale it despite its excellence if it comes from a sick place or a sick view of the world. Nevertheless, films like The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Omen, The Rite of Spring – and thousands of other examples – are the less spiritually disturbing of these films.
I don’t think everyone needs to see Ritual: A Psychomagic Story, but it is an often brilliant film. There’s nothing too stomach-churning about it but it is very dark and it does deal with material which could be traumatic to people who are struggling with personal mental health issues. What makes it important, to a degree, is that it deals with things that are very real to a great number of people in this world.