On a winter night, the priest of Saint Margaret, Don Guglielmo, has been found dead, apparently of natural causes. The case gets more intrigued when also the sacristan of Saint Margaret is found dead in mysterious circumstances. Together with his fellow Ventura, the inspector Cellini will try to solve this uneasy case moving between the ancient and esoteric world of the Benandanti and the everyday reality of a small city in the north-eastern Italy.
70 minutes, 16mm, colour, Skené, 2001.
Writer, Producer and Director.
Between the 14th and 15th century, and found in the Friuli region of Northeast Italy, an ancient fertility cult flourished.
It was called the legend of the Benandanti.
The Benandanti were said to be spiritual defenders of the harvest.
Fighting in the name of God against evil witches and sorcerers who, through all manner of terror were set on the destruction of the year’s crops and other chaos.
The people, primarily the farmers believed that the Benandanti were Holy Spirits who were sent by God to protect them and allow for a rich harvest for the coming year. They were also thought to possess fantastic powers of prophecy, healing and over life and death itself.
The Church however, was not willing to accommodate such phenomena, so the Benandanti were condemned as heretics.
Ultimately, the Benandanti, under pressure from the Inquisition, disappeared in under a century. The group was forced into hiding and its leaders underground in order to protect their secrets, or die in the effort.
Some say that descendants of the Benandanti live in secret among us today.
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!
In a winter night at the rail station of Udine, a priest has been found dead on a train. It’s Father Guglielmo, parish priest of Sclain, a little church in the countryside of Udine. Inspector Cellini and his colleague Ventura arrive at the station. They look at the dead body. Apparently, according to the doctor, the priest died of natural causes. There are no particular clues among his personal belongings. He bought a return ticket to Lugano, Switzerland, the day before, and that night he was going home. They also find a picture of a young lady in his wallet. She’s his niece, the only relative the police can contact and inform. The body is finally removed.
The next day at the identification of the body by the niece (Arianna Beltrame), there are also the inspector and his colleague. She is still shaken from the night before and Cellini tries to comfort her by being nice and friendly. He follows her outside the building and talks to her.
The autopsy has started and the two policemen are waiting without much interest. Suddenly the doctor stops. The heart of the priest looks perfectly healthy and that’s a bit odd for an heart-attack victim. He wants to know more about it. He looks in the stomach and he’s surprised to find that there is no food, but a strange liquid. Probably it’s a kind of unknown drug.
The first thought of the inspector is that the drug itself is the cause of the hearth-attack. The doctor is not convinced. He wants to finish the job as soon as possible, he doesn’t want to loose more time with this patient. Cellini, though, insists that a better and more accurate analysis on the drug should be carried out. This will take some time and the results will be ready in a few days. The inspector rules out the possibility of a suicide. It doesn’t make sense that someone commits suicide on a train by drinking a lethal drug and especially not far from home. Therefore, either the priest must have been forced to drink the drug, but with no violence (the signs of struggle are missing), or he drunk the drug by accident.
A case is opened and the police starts the investigations straight away. There is the inspection of the rectory and the church of Sclain. Cellini questions the sacristan about the life of the priest. Father Guglielmo spent the last years of his life studying three ancient parchments. They have been found during the refurbishing works of the church after the earthquake in 1976. The priest was used to travel a lot and for short periods. The police finds all the documents and writings of the priest together with a little book containing all the bank statements of a Swiss bank account in Lugano. Everything is seized and the sacristan is very worried about the parchments. Those ancient text are very valuable and they tried to stolen them more than once. Many people also tried to borrow them for studying, but Father Guglielmo was very jealous about them. The sacristan also tells the police about a historian, a man of culture that was used to meet Father Guglielmo quite often and more than once, they had arguments on the parchments and their story. This historian, professor Moretti, is an expert of religion history and popular traditions. The inspection is over and the inspector and his colleague go back to the department.
Through additional researches the police discovers that in the Swiss bank account of Father Guglielmo there are a large sum of money in US dollars and many stocks, furthermore that the only relative, and therefore heir, is his niece Arianna. The last money transfer has been done Friday morning, the same day he died. Ventura stays at the office, while Cellini goes and meets the niece. She is very kind and polite although a bit distant. He suspects that she has doped her uncle to inherit the money. The inspector tells her about the Swiss account, but she is quite surprised in hearing that. He questions her about the frequent travels of her uncle. She does have a very strong alibi and tells the inspector more about her family. She knew only that her uncle was studying the ancient parchments and that he was used to travel a lot, nothing more. At the end, the conversation turns more informal and a slight feeling starts between the two.
That night Cellini drives to the historian house, in a secluded place in the mountains. The welcome is not one of the best the inspector is awaiting, at the contrary the historian is very upset to see the police in his house. Cellini tells him about the priest and his death and asks about the value of the parchments. Moretti at the news of the priest death, reacts in a strange way. He gets angry and makes the inspector leave at once. Cellini leaves him his card anyway, just in case the historian should change his mind. Driving back home, the inspector thinks about the happenings of the day and about the historian strange reaction.
Sunday morning Ventura goes to wake up Cellini, bringing him the latest news of the case. Father Guglielmo was used to go quite often in Switzerland and there is another bank account, this time in a bank in Udine where money was transferred and taken in cash on a regular basis by the priest himself. The phone rings. It’s the historian. He has changed his mind and wants to meet the inspector. Cellini meets Moretti in a bar, downtown. The historian informs the inspector on all he knows about the parchments. He explains the story and the myth of the ‘Benandanti’1 and what has been proved and written on the subject. The inspector is very intrigued. The historian also insist on the fact that they should read and analyse the parchments, because they might contain the truth on Father Guglielmo’s death. Also, they contain the way to a treasure and therefore they need to be translated and decoded. Cellini promises him the copies of the parchments so he can start studying them and he appoints him as an expert on the case.
The inspector goes back home after taking with him the copies of the parchments and the writings of the priest. He starts looking at them. He studies them the whole afternoon, without understanding much about them, really. In the evening he is fed up with all the Benandanti business and decides to call the niece with an excuse. He wants to meet her. He’s convinced that she’s lying and that she knows a lot more. The only way to solve the case, according to him, is by question her and not by decoding the parchments. At her place Cellini is pestering her with questions. He wants to prove his suspicions. He asks her what does she know about the ‘Benandanti’ and if her uncle was one of them. Does she know the historian? He questions her more about her family to make her confess the motive. They start an argument. He accuses her of killing her uncle with the help of a party to get hold of the parchment treasure, converted by the priest in the Swiss account. She starts crying and he must go without enough evidence to frame her.
In the meantime the historian carries on with the study of the parchments. He goes to the Archiepiscopal Archive to read the ancient trial documents of the inquisition against the ‘Benandanti’ in the XVI century, to know more. He is very excited to have this opportunity, while Cellini thinks it’s a big waste of time. The inspector goes back to the niece to apologise for the night before. He knows it’s her birthday, so he takes her out for dinner. She seems forgive him and she accepts the invitation. They are having dinner in a romantic and cosy restaurant. Cellini is going to make her talk with a gentle touch. He tries to get as much information as he can get on her uncle and on his business in Switzerland. She won’t say much, though. She keeps saying always the same things he already knows. Eventually the conversation turns sentimental and they forget the case and discuss on their private lives. They are flirting each other. Suddenly his mobile rings: it’s his colleague Ventura. Cellini has to go immediately. He is very sorry and upset, but he has to leave her alone. She goes back home, while the inspector joins his colleague. The sacristan has been killed. When Cellini arrives at the church, they are taking the body away. The rectory is topsy-turvy. The assassins were probably looking either for the money or for the drug, not for the parchments for sure. Cellini links the two homicides together and realises that the money in the Swiss account is not related with the parchments treasure, that the same money is probably the income of a kind of dirty business and that the priest was killed by the same killers, and also that the niece turns now from convicted to victim.
The inspector runs to the her place and tells her what happened and she’s terrified. He comforts her and calms her down. The suspicions over her vanish by the fact that she was together with Cellini at the restaurant when the sacristan was killed. She knows nothing. The next day the inspector meets the historian for new developments of the investigation. Cellini is fed up, though, with all the stories the historian is telling him. He warns Moretti to remove him from his task if he is not bringing precise evidence to the case. The parchments are telling about the existence of a special group of ‘Benandanti’: The Order of the Golden Lion and according to the historian, Father Guglielmo was part of it. Furthermore, the parchments treasure is not physical, but spiritual. It’s the knowledge of the secret of the Order. Probably is the way the members could separate the soul from the body whenever they want. Moretti was not able yet to discover how. The results of the autopsy are ready. The drug found in the stomach of the priest is a mixture of herbs with hallucinatory effect, but not lethal for healthy people like the priest. Therefore the death by hearth-attack was not caused by the drug itself. The priest died for natural death.
Short after the police reports that some loan-sharks were arrested, thanks to the help of a family victim of debts. Father Guglielmo was used to help some families in need of help avoiding that these were forced to contact the usurers. A group of moneylenders wanted only to scare the priest and warn him not to interfere with their business. The killing of the sacristan was only an accident. At this point the case seems solved. The parchments have nothing to do with the crimes and so does the drug. Father Guglielmo died by his own, for a sudden hearth-attack, before the loan-sharks could get him. The inspector and his colleague meet outside the hospital and think about the case. At this point the case is closed. Cellini is not totally convinced and cannot understand how a priest like Father Guglielmo drunk a drug like that, not far from home and on a train. He has to accept it, having no other evidence to prove other theories.
Arianna is at Cellini’s place. Suddenly Cellini distracts himself. He’s got an idea. The priest on the train was moving! In the writings about the ‘Benandanti’ is mentioned that if the body is moved once the soul is away, the soul cannot go back into the body again and therefore the body dies. There is also written that most of the time it looks like a natural death. Obviously in those times they couldn’t tell if the cause was an hearth-attack. He checks quickly the papers on his desk. The niece is surprised and intrigued at the same time because she is not following him in his thoughts. He doesn’t have time to explain. He is sorry, but he has to go. He steps outside. Driving towards the historian place, he thinks over his discoveries. The priest died because his soul left his body and, because he was on a train, therefore moving, the spirit couldn’t go back inside his body. Only a ‘Benandante’ or an expert on the ‘Benandanti’ could know all this. How the priest managed to separate the spirit from the body was the only thing still missing. Maybe by drinking the same drug found in his body. The inspector is also convinced that the historian is a ‘Benandante’ himself and that he knows more than it seems. The inspector hopes by questioning him, to find the evidence to his theories, especially why the priest was forced to drink the drug considering that he knew its effect.
At the house, Cellini finds the historian in a state of trance. He managed to separate his spirit from the body. Moretti sits in an armchair, his eyes closed, but affected by strange convulsions. Suddenly the historian gives a groan and opens his eyes. The spirit is back inside the body. Cellini is astonished. Moretti is very dazed and notices the inspector. Cellini has discovered everything. The inspector thinks the historian, like Father Guglielmo, decoded the parchments and found out their secret: how to separate the soul from the body. Instead that night is one of the four ‘Tempora’ where the battles between ‘Benandanti’ and witches were taking place. The historian confesses: he is not a ‘Benandante’ but a wizard (Malandante). He wanted to get hold of the parchments and find out the secret, but he was always thwarted by the Church and Father Guglielmo. Only by helping the investigations over the mysterious death of the priest, he could be able to decode the parchments.
That night Moretti got in the train to meet Father Guglielmo and kill him. He knew that the priest was conducting his personal war against the usurers and therefore the same usurers could have been accused of the murder. The priest, though, in a situation with no way out, drunk the potion, shocking the historian and making him escape. The priest thought that by drinking the potion he could easily simulate a natural death and therefore there would have been no further investigations and the parchments would have been safe. Also he could easily avoid a scandal. Cellini is impressed. Moretti didn’t kill the priest and therefore not chargeable.