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THE RITE

The Devil in the Details
Does a thief or a burglar turn on the lights when he's robbing your house? No. He prefers you to believe he's not there. Like the Devil. Father Lucas

Prior to the start of an extensive shoot that would encompass the great European cities of Rome and Budapest, key department heads visited Matt Baglio in Rome to tour some of the places he explored over the course of his research, including the Vatican. "No matter what the environment was—whether it was ancient or contemporary—we wanted to get a sense that you could fully expect to walk into any of these spaces and not feel that there was anything immediately strange about it,” states production designer Andrew Laws.

For Håfström, the key to the film's physical spaces was to create a sense of extraordinary events unfolding within an environment that was palpably real. He clarifies, "To use what was effective, and then layer that with our own reality.”

"The look of the film evolved during production,” says director of photography Benjamin Davis. "We're both fans of ‘70s filmmaking, and Mikael wanted the movie to have that verité, naturalistic style. We wanted to ensure that the imagery felt true to life.” Following detailed research and preparation, production began with a 10-day shoot in Rome, filming on its busy streets and at landmarks at the height of tourist season.

Some of the locations included the Piazza della Republicca; Piazza Pio XI; Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Steps); Ponte Sant'Angelo, overlooking the Tiber River; and in the Via della Conciliazione, which connects with Piazza san Pietro (St. Peter's Square), where Michael Kovac arrives at Vatican City.

"We did all the bigger exteriors in Rome, which is such a cinematic city,” Håfström notes. "It has a look and feel that is hard to find anywhere else in the world. We then traveled to Budapest for stage work and to find ‘Rome' on a smaller scale—in some of its churches and cobblestone streets—which worked out really well.”

Adds location manager Marco Giacalone, "We were able to find in Budapest very similar architecture to what you find in Rome, as well as some vast empty buildings where large scale sets could easily be constructed.”

In Budapest, Laws' team constructed interiors to represent key locations throughout the story, including the Vatican Courtyard, which was created within the empty Báv auction house; a rundown apartment courtyard where Father Lucas brings Michael at Damjanich; and a hospital set built within Hungary's historic Ludovica building, a former military academy and more recent home to the city's Museum of Natural History. Rome's famous Caffé Santo Staccio was recreated at a coffee bar in St. Stephen's Basilica Square, and the unique, cobblestoned location called The Narrow Street provided an evocative setting for a dash through the rain.

Perhaps the most critical design challenge for the production was capturing the Vatican as Michael experiences it when he attends his first exorcism lecture by Father Xavier. "The Catholic Church is rightfully very sensitive about filming on Vatican grounds,” reveals Giacalone.

Laws' team built the older section of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy, as well as Father Xavier's office, within the Ethnographic Museum in Budapest. "Our idea was that the traditional architecture of the museum would resemble what many people would expect the Pontifical to be,” he explains.

Standing in stark contrast, the bright contemporary lecture hall catches Kovac off guard. The atrium and the auditorium itself were constructed on a stage at Astra Filmstudios near Budapest.

"The Vatican auditorium sets a precedent for Michael Kovac,” the production designer notes. "He comes to Rome with certain cynical expectations about what he thinks he's going to find. Entering the auditorium is one of the first moments where he comes into an environment that is not in any way what he imagined. Our Vatican Academy is meant to be quite modern, very up-to-date, very representative of a more scientific academy, which throws him off a little bit because his preconceptions were that it was going to be all quite mystical and historically leaden.”

Laws structured the auditorium with the theme of overlapping leaves and simple colors. "In our Vatican Academy, there's the sense that they're not hiding anything,” says Håfström. "Their work is out in the open, as demonstrated by Alice Braga's character, a reporter, being given full access to their exorcism courses.”

The oval-shaped auditorium space is marked by modern rows for seating, a sophisticated touch-screen monitor, and what Laws calls the room's signature piece: its gracefully structured ceiling. "We wanted something quite dramatic to finish the space,” Laws says. "It had to be something that really made a statement. So we went through a few iterations of a light-based ceiling and ended up with this rather beautiful sculpted, scalloped, shell-like ceiling with a light element between each fin. It was not the easiest thing to hang up there, but in the end, it paid off.”

Michael's assumptions are also challenged when he enters the rectory and home of Father Lucas just outside Rome. This key location was broken up into two parts: Gül Baba, which closely resembles Rome's Rocca di Papi, for the street outside; and the courtyard, apartment, rectory and exorcism room, which were built at Astra Filmstudios.

At the rectory, Michael glimpses another side of Father Lucas—from the motorcycle being worked on in the courtyard, to the potentially blasphemous books on his bookshelves, to the simple yet modern furnishings in the house itself.

Father Lucas's clothes also reflect his unconventional nature. When designing for Father Lucas, costume designer Carlo Pogglioli initially looked to more traditional clerical dress. Then he met with Hopkins himself. "When he came to the first fitting, he said, ‘I want to mix these traditional things with something more modern,' and he was completely right,” Pogglioli notes. "We see him in an old cassock, which I made from scratch because you can't find those old fabrics anymore, but then suddenly we see he has a t-shirt underneath it and a cell phone in his pocket.”

Pogglioli relished the opportunity to research the clerical costumes the film would require. "There was no better thing to show Mikael, our director, than the real life Vatican,” says the costume designer. "We went to see the Pope when he had an audience with the people. That was amazing because we had a hundred different kinds of monks, nuns, priests from all over the world. And that was the reference we used throughout the movie.”

For Michael Kovac, Pogglioli created a very American look at the beginning of the film, which grows darker and more serious as his journey unfolds. "We go through exactly what he goes through in his mind as he begins to encounter this possible demonic possession,” Pogglioli explains. "So, we start with bright color in his home town Illinois, and then move to colder colors in Rome.”

The sense of coldness in the environment permeates everything as Michael ventures further into the dark side with Father Lucas. "The sun rarely shines in this film,” says director of photography Davis. "And the darker the story gets, the colder the daylight feels, like it would never be warm. It would always feel cold and oppressive. Imagine a November afternoon when it's raining and you're not quite sure when you step outside whether it's day or night. That's the feeling we wanted for the tone of the film.”

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