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Ritual: A Psychomagic Story | 2013 Fantasia Review

Psychobabble: Brazzale & Immesi Debut Fails to Spellbind

Ritual: A Psychomagic Story Giulia Brazzale Luca Immesi PosterDespite its potentially intriguing title, Ritual: A Psychomagic Story, the debut of co-directors Giulia Brazzale and Luca Immesi, fails to sustain logic or interest in a giallo derived (though it’s much more subdued than the promise of that genre) tale of madness and sexual obsession. Worse, the participation of several notable names will undoubtedly attract undeserving attention to this amateurish stew of nonsense.

Lia (Desiree Giorgetti) is a sensitive and passive young wisp of a woman who at first seems to lead a rather fulfilling existence, punctuated with bouts of passionate lovemaking with her boyfriend, Viktor (Ivan Franek). However, it’s soon apparent that Viktor is a bit obsessive with Lia, and his controlling nature has surpassed the point that she’s usually more than happy to comply with. An argument that spins out of control finds Viktor forcing Lia to have rough sex on the kitchen table. Worse, Lia, shown to be adamantly against eating raw fish, is forced to eat sushi against her will. Frequent trips to her therapist, Fernando (Alejandro Jodorowsky), has her exploring disturbing memories from her childhood through the use of role-play.

We discover that upon menstruating at the age of 9, Lia was convinced that she was cursed. Unable to be raised by her mentally unstable mother, Lia was mostly nurtured by her Aunt Agata (Anna Bonasso) in an 18th century villa. Fernando strongly recommends that Lia take a vacation of sorts with her aging Aunt. While Agata is more than happy to receive her struggling niece, we learn that Auntie is a village soothsayer and sometimes prophet. Many regard her as a sort of good natured witch. Two young children that refer to themselves as ‘the pixies’ visit Lia, with whom she confides many of her distressing feelings. But it isn’t long before the jealous Viktor comes knocking, wondering just what it is his lady love is up to all alone with Aunt Agata in the old villa.

While its opening set-up establishes the unhealthy relationship between Viktor and Lia, Ritual feels rote nearly from the first frames. The troubled couple is about as ridiculously portrayed as the central pair from Tommy Wisseau’s The Room, albeit less inclined toward unintentional guffaws due to the seedy seriousness it employs. Eyebrows will surely be raised at the appearance of Chilean director and cult icon Alejandro Jodorowsky (unveiling his own directorial effort for the first time in 23 years at Cannes 2013), mostly in abject wonder about what he possibly could be doing here. Sadly, we’re witness to Jodorowsky’s wizened therapist as he makes unquestioning Lia act out parts of her memories by playing musical chairs in a sequence that’s as awkward as it is incessantly ridiculous. Of course, there’s a minor twist concerning his character, but the revelation only creates more silly questions. And then there’s that force-feeding sushi sequence, at which point, any semblance of seriousness is completely washed away, never to return.

When we finally get to Aunt Agata’s abode, the film switches gears, revealing its motif (and parenthetical handle) to revolve around the power of suggestion. The return of Viktor causes Lia to have a nude nightmare montage that’s akin to an early career Fiona Apple music video. And glossing over it all is original music by none other than Moby (so…it was free?) who, while crooning in French while Lia shuffles through a box containing artifacts from her childhood, only manages to elevate the pretentiousness. But in between these laughable gems of hilarity, Ritual: A Psychomagic Story is an unenthralling snoozer, failing to realize that to engage the power of suggestion, something needs to be suggested. While Czech actor Ivan Franek tries his best to be a smarmy threat, he’s consistently undermined by a hopeless turn from Giorgetti, who does her damnedest to scene chew the dry material. This psychomagic is psychosomatic.

Reviewed July 31 at the 2013 Fantasia Film Festival.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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