Faith depicts a stark view of life as a warrior monk

It is difficult, at times, to remember that Faith is a documentary. Filmed beautifully in black and white, this is a film that elevates style over substance. Faith is about a group of warrior monks in rural Italy. Blending together elements of Catholicism, Buddhism, and martial arts training, the monastery where this film takes place depicts a highly intense atmosphere. The Warriors of Light, as they are called, engage in an eclectic mix of beliefs and practices, which simultaneously imbues the monastery with a clear sense of direction and profound lack of purpose. This creates a narrative that is both inscrutable and compelling.

Initially, it was tempting to think that the lack of a cohesive narrative was the fault of the director. But, a deeper analysis of the film upends that point of view. The structure of life inside the monastery is determined solely by its leader. Any documentary that seeks to observe its subject matter from the subject’s point of view will necessarily depend on the narrative supplied by the subject itself. Thus, if a cohesive narrative is not provided by the subject, the narrative will not feel cohesive. In this film, how the leader of the Warriors of Light chose to integrate his eclectic mix of beliefs and practices or why he chose to open a monastery is unclear. What occurs within the monastery walls feels totally and completely arbitrary. The whims of the leader seem to dictate everything.

There is an American psychologist, Robert Sternberg, who formulated a Triangular Theory of love that may provide us with a framework for understanding life inside this monastery. His theory, consisting of three components (intimacy, passion, commitment), describes seven different types of love that people experience in intimate relationships. These types, or categories, are based upon the relative presence or absence of the three components identified above. For example, some relationships may exhibit a combination of intimacy and commitment, but lack passion. Sternberg describes that kind of love as companionate love. The theory presupposes that most people pursue intimate relationships that have all three components.

It may seem strange to highlight a theory of love in a film review of this type, but I think a similar framework can be applied to the relationship between the monastery and its members. A reasonable question one might ask is why a person would join such a community. Similarly, one might ask why a person chooses to stay. Sternberg described one type of love consisting of commitment alone; a form of love without intimacy or passion. He called this empty love. The Warriors of Light have devoted their lives to a set of ideals, articulated by one man, without clear reasons for doing so. Thus, while commitment to the community provides a clear direction through its rituals, the commitment of members to the community feels based on a form of empty love.

The monochromatic color scheme of this film conveys a sense of emptiness so well, it immerses the viewer almost completely. Though the narrative is frustrating for its ambiguity, the quality of the cinematography alone makes it worth watching. This film is now showing on MUBI, a curated streaming service for cinephiles.