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IDFA 2019 Competition

Review: Faith

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- Valentina Pedicini’s third feature film is an extraordinarily intense documentary following the bizarre Bolzano-based sect known as The Warriors of Light

Review: Faith

Documenting daily life in a sect as remote and unyielding as that of the Guerrieri della Luce (The Warriors of Light) whilst producing a film that’s both intimate and sincere would seem an impossible mission for any mere mortal. Not, however, for Valentina Pedicini, the highly talented director of Faith, a documentary which is battling it out in the main competition of this year’s IDFA. Faith follows on the heels of Pedicini’s second feature film, the drama Where Shadows Fall [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Valentina Pedicini
film profile
]
, presented during Venice Days two years ago. Indeed, the prestigious Dutch kermis had already helped launch the Puglia director’s career via her now multi-award-winning debut documentary on the last Sardinian coal miner, intitled From the Depths (2013). Faith is the result of eleven years’ hard labour, culminating in a film-shoot made in direct association with the group and lasting around three and a half months.

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The Warriors of Light are a sect founded over twenty years ago and composed of around twenty people, most of whom are former martial arts champions. The group made the decision to live in near isolation in a Bolzano monastery, adhering to a belief which is a curious blend of Kung Fu, Shaolin doctrine and Catholicism, accompanied by a highly strenuous and athletic, daily exercise routine. This routine consists of combat and physical exercises aimed at “fighting” – though what it is they’re fighting isn’t exactly clear; it’s probably some sort of internal struggle – while the pumping rhythm of German-language house music thumps in the background. Followers dress entirely in white and most of them have a partially or fully shaved head. The two children living in the community, Olimpia and Altair, slowly learn to embrace this “monastic” faith through the lessons delivered to them by their teacher and their parents, experiencing a totally different childhood to that of their peers, and immersed in a bucolic-martial world that’s both unusual and unsettling.

The documentary is shot entirely in black and white. It’s a decidedly fitting aesthetic choice; after all, we’re dealing with a community which lives according to unshakeable ideals and drastic decisions. In the world of The Warriors of Light, there’s clearly no room for nuance, ambiguity, doubt or colour. Over the course of the film, two followers have trouble practicing the beliefs of the sect and clash with their teacher. Gabriele, in particular, seems to have flirted with many of the girls and, in the end, he’s tasked with writing an essay in order to confess his weaknesses and mend his ways. Cristina, meanwhile, is no longer capable of training like a “real warrior” and finds herself under huge psychological pressure from her teacher, who even threatens to throw her out of the community.

As viewers, we watch the vicissitudes of the sect with angst, apprehension and genuine curiosity. The narration is thrilling, further enhanced by the splendid photography curated by Bastian Esser and the enchanting musical score penned by Federico Campana. Almost always, we follow the film’s characters up-close, catching spontaneous dialogue, outpourings, conflicts and moments of prayer and recollection. It’s a documentary that’s precious, rich, unique and powerful. At a certain point, despite huge differences between our daily life and the lifestyle adhered to within the sect, we’re invited to ask ourselves important questions on the values of faith, freedom and society. Indeed, whilst the uses and customs of The Warriors of Light are blatantly absurd, many of the rituals which are typical of our own lives are no more set in stone than those of the sect, having only acquired meaning through their being shared, socially acceptable conventions.

Faith is produced by Donatella Palermo on behalf of Stemal Entertainment. International sales are entrusted to Fandango.

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(Translated from Italian)

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