By Rich Cline
This off-centre film looks like a paean to devotion with its stately images of pilgrims seeking healing at a holy Catholic site. And yet Hausner quietly and cleverly undermines this with a searing undercurrent about the mindlessness of organised religion.
Christine (Testud) is a prisoner of her body due to MS, and travels to Lourdes with a tour group of people hoping for a miracle. Accompanied by a team of nurses and assistants, they visit the famed grotto, are bathed in the sacred waters, attend services and are blessed by priests. Her nurse (Seydoux) has other things on her mind, and her roommate (Barbier) is a little too helpful.
And then the unexpected happens: Christine moves. But the pilgrims question why she's the one who was chosen when clearly others are more needy and deserving.
Hausner films this in strikingly still takes with minimal dialog, letting the fine cast develop the characters through subtle, extremely realistic expressions and interaction. As always, Testud is remarkable in the role, as the sceptical Christine is even more stunned at her own transformation than everyone else is. In her eyes, and her whole body, we see her tentatively grappling for faith, even as she clearly doesn't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, as it were.
And this echoes the film's central theme, which develops organically and so subtly that some viewers might miss it. Everyone on this pilgrimage sees their religion through their narrow perspective, which leaves them open to suggestion, rumour, personal bitterness and, most tellingly, the ability to blithely explain away any theological concept that's troublesome (like why an omnipotent God doesn't just cure everyone). Even the logistics at Lourdes are mired in human systems that seek to disprove any supposed miracle.
In other words, Hausner is suggesting that faith is something simplistic and superficial. But actually her perspective is a bit simplistic and superficial too. As she astutely points out the gaping holes in organised religion, she forgets to acknowledge that there are people out there who have a genuine, non-superficial faith. So in many ways the movie begins to feel almost like a fantastical thriller rather than a very black satire.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Wednesday 17th February 2010
Distributed by: Palisades Tartan
Production compaines: Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF), ARTE, Canal+, Coop 99, Essential Filmproduktion GmbH, Société Parisienne de Production, Thermidor Filmproduktion, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF)
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 38 Rotten: 3
Cast & Crew
Director: Jessica Hausner
Screenwriter: Jessica Hausner
Starring: Sylvie Testud as Christine, Léa Seydoux as Maria, Elina Löwensohn as Cécile, Bruno Todeschini as Kuno, Gilette Barbier as Fr. Hartl, Gerhard Liebmann as Pater Nigl, Linde Prelog as Frau Huber, Heidi Baratta as Frau Spor, Hubert Kramar as Herr Oliveti, Helga Illich as Frau Oliveti, Walter Benn as Herr Hruby, Petra Morzé as Mother, Orsolya Tóth as Child in Wheelchair, Katharina Flicker as Sonja, Thomas Uhlir as Max