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Friday, December 3, 2021

Procession Review: Art as Exorcism

Robert Green’s two most recent documentaries have speculated on the ethics of reproducing traumatic events with an interest in the psychological impact of immersion on performers. “Kate Plays Christine” featured an actress who was preparing for the role of a TV host who committed suicide on the air. Bisbee ’17 watched residents of an Arizona city recreate a massive deportation that had taken place there a century earlier.

In The Procession, Greene takes the concept of staging as an exorcism to the extreme: Can male survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the Catholic Church resist painful memories through filmmaking – and perhaps get some comfort from the process? The film is billed as a three-year collaboration between six victims of violence, an occupational therapist, a filmmaker and his team. Widely acclaimed “behind the film”, Greene is giving victims the highest score.

The Procession follows the men who brainstorm each other and shoot five scenes based on their experiences. Various elements of the production process (casting, costume, finding places where the subjects have not visited since adolescence) become a means of coping and reckoning. The sixth survivor, Tom Viviano, says he cannot tell his story because she is still in court. His contribution is to act – to play predatory priests in what should be an agonizing feat of impersonation – in two parts.

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The procession is extremely difficult to watch, as it should be. It is also difficult to evaluate as an art given how much it blurs the lines between collaboration and co-option, and between cinema and supportive care. Judging Green’s experiment, not least because of its apparent beneficial effects, seems like an invasion of private breakthroughs. But the embarrassing power of The Procession stems from its ability to show and, apparently, facilitate them.

Appreciated by R. Discussions of childhood traumas. The duration of the performance is 1 hour 58 minutes. Watch on Netflix.

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