Friday, August 05, 2022

Faith: Cloistered with the Techno Warriors of Light

The Warriors of Light are an Italian Catholic splinter-group that leads a rigorous cloistered life, adapted from Shaolin monasticism. Yet, this immersive documentary looks like it could have been shot by a fashion photographer from the school of Herb Ritts or Bruce Weber. There is little bodily shame or body fat. The latter logically follows when you train for an ultimate battle against the forces of evil. They might be a cult, but physically they are chiseled and runway-ready, as captured by the lens of the late documentarian Valentina Pedicini in Faith, which starts streaming today on Film Movement Plus.

The doc starts with a ritual that looks more like a rave. The Master of this “monastery” tucked away in the picturesque Italian hills is often shirtless, contributing to the general vibe of sexuality that openly fuels their community. However, not all is well. One disciple is writing a detailed “confession” that promises to be considerably longer and juicier than St. Augustine’s. Regardless, the Master pushes his recruits to the absolute breaking point, with techno blaring from his smart phone that would not sound out of place during a
Mortal Kombat training montage.

Amid this super-charged setting, the Master’s partner raises their young children. Happily, it is not nearly as intense an experience for them. Just the regular head-shaving, before foraging for roots and herbs with their mother.

When Pedicini was on-site with the Warriors of Light, the anticipation of apocalyptic tidings might have seen incomprehensibly alien. Since then, there has been a worldwide pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and China ringing Taiwan with warships. Maybe let’s not scoff too heartily. Nevertheless, the harrowing scenes in which the Master breaks down his acolytes, pushing them beyond their limits, is textbook cult indoctrination—and it is painful to watch.

Frankly, the observational approach does not always serve
Faith well. This film cries out for dialogue, asking the Master just what exactly is he thinking and why. His order might be small, but they are formidable. Perhaps fortunately, the Master seems to be largely focused inward, demanding rigorous self-purification, but we never get a full sense of what the long-term plan is.

Faith is often bizarrely beautiful. Bastian Esser’s black-and-white cinematography really looks like it could run in the pages of Italian Vogue. It just leaves too many questions unaddressed. Intriguing but unsatisfying, Faith is not recommended now that it is available via Film Movement Plus.