'Soul': One Long Sermon

Friday, May 12, 2006

The dramatically titled "Rape of the Soul" is filmmaker Michael A. Calace's investigation into the subliminal sexual and occult images embedded in sacred paintings and images. He finds these "embeds" in works from the past (Sandro Botticelli, Hieronymus Bosch) and present, such as a picture on the Web site Archtoronto.org. Calace, who directed, wrote, produced and stars in the documentary, isolates fascinating examples of subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) demon faces, phalluses and even what he considers alien bugs in images that -- on the surface -- would seem to be wholly religious. Calace, a devout Catholic, accuses the Toronto archdiocese of actively thwarting his attempts to make a dramatic movie ("Intimate Fear") in the Ontario capital.

Calace speaks in an assured, even voice and makes good points, all of which help assuage the suspicion that he's just an ax grinder. Some of his findings are starkly persuasive, others less so. But he could use a few lessons in moviemaking. The talking-head interviews with experts in subliminal seduction techniques and clinical psychology evolve from fascinating to wearying. And the film's theme -- as we jump around among supposed cloak-and-dagger maneuverings, pedophiliac priests, old paintings and the Nazis' use of demon imagery -- is woollier than holy. Ultimately, "Rape" is a 140-minute sermon embedded in a movie.

-- Desson Thomson

Rape of the Soul Unrated, 140 minutes Contains sexual images and language. At AMC Loews Dupont Circle.

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