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Ritual: A Psychomagic Story
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by Jay Seaver

"Has just enough psychomagic to point the audience in the right direction."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Ritual: A Psychomagic Story" is explicitly inspired by the work and philosophy of Alejandro Jodorowsky, and many may find themselves disappointed that, after a very stylish opening, it is never in the same category of strangeness as Jodorowsky's films (or comics, though those are bizarre in different ways). Oh, it's certainly odd, and goes in and out of states of madness, but it never gets near the "what the heck did I just see?" territory where Jodorowsky often lives.

Jordorowsky's "psychomagic" is roughly what you'd expect from its root words, and Lia (Désirée Giorgetti) could probably use both miracles and analysis in her life. She is already seeing Dr. Guerrieri (Cosimo Cinieri), and her issues don't entirely relate to her extremely domineering boyfriend Viktor (Ivan Franek). The doctor recommends she return to Mason, the village where she spent summers as a child, to visit her aunt Agata (Anna Bonasso). Agata has her own way of helping people to cope with their demons, although when Viktor joins her, it looks like little more than witchcraft to him.

And maybe it is, but there's a long history of stories relating how traditional or shamanistic practices sometimes being more effective than conventional medicine. Psychomagic seems to be about tailoring the ritual directly to the mental malady, although it's not specifically defined within the story (a book by Jodorowsky appears at one point, and the man himself makes a cameo appearance as Agata's late husband). The film's espousal of Jodorowsky's theories are done by example rather than lecture, and while they are a sort of low-key oddity, it's interesting to see them work. It gives the audience something to think about in terms of the power of symbolic language.

For all that the ideas of the film may be the main draw, Désirée Giorgetti may be the best thing about it. The film has Lia on the edge of complete collapse for something like 80% of its running time, and she manages to keep it fascinating. She does a fine job of seemingly regressing Lia to childhood in some scenes without it being the only way that she looks haggard and broken. It's an impressive job of moving away from, toward, and over the line that separates sanity and desperation.

Ivan Franek is in fine form, too. Viktor's an overbearing bully of a boyfriend, but Franek initially manages to capture a vibe where he and Lia might just have a kinky relationship, and there's also a vibe to how Franek plays Viktor with people who aren't Lia and Agata that makes him both more human and in some ways more monstrous for it. Anna Bonasso, meanwhile, does a nice job of playing Agata as the wise old witch without being beatific or snappily quirky about it. There's just the right amount of performance when Agata is practicing her art that she doesn't seem like a complete chameleon. There's a bit of charm to Nicola Arabi & Gaia Ziche as "pixies" who appear to Lia, although they can seem a bit off when they go from just being kids to saying lines.

Things are kind of slow going at times. The film is only 90 minutes long but often seems to drag; over the course of the picture, we get a lot of examples of Viktor's cruelty and Agata's kindness, but it often seems like more repetition without actual new insight. The film occasionally feels disjointed enough to feel like it's presented out of chronological order, although that's rarely the case. The directors served as the editors, and this may be a case of needing someone else in the room to keep them from falling too much in love with every idea they had during filming. The ending could have been handled a lot better.

For all its occasional stumbles, though, "Ritual" does a lot of things right; the underlying concept of how the process acts on the human brain and the character dynamics around Lia are both quite good. The stitching them together is occasionally a little rough, but what gets made this way is still at least interesting.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=25470&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/02/13 14:30:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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