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Persona

Lourdes

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Ken Morefield's #1 Film from 2009 should appeal to many A&Fers. It is a quiet reflection on miracles, topcially interesting to me after seeing In Your Hands just last week. It shares similar qualities of the mystery of the miracle and the mystery of the miracle maker, but here it shows even believers that want to test every aspect of it in order to verify its authenticity.

I'm going to try to write something small about my admiration for the film this weekend, but for now I just want to steal a few sentences from Ken to get things started:

Sylvie Testud’s performance is remarkable. That she is able to draw us into Christine’s (the main character’s) inner world and make us feel as though we understand something of her interior world and not merely her circumstances is a gargantuan achievement. Jessica Hausner’s direction is precise and restrained; it counts on us to notice things without spotlighting them–the slightest movement of a hand, a change of expression, a momentary pause.

I'm not finding a trailer with subtitles but I think these images will easily give you a vibe for the basic storyline and the richness of the picture:

I'd really like to hear more thoughts about this one! See it before DVD if you can. I know it is on very limited release. The film's picture quality is theater-worthy, for certain.

Edited by Persona

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Link to our thread on the other Lourdes movie, The Song of Bernadette.

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Thanks, Tyler, I didn't know there was any connection there. It's still holding on to the t100 at #100. I definitely have an interest in seeing it.

What is the Lourdes connection?

Edited by Persona

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Bernadette recounts a woman (Bernadette) seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary in the town of Lourdes, which subsequently became a holy spot where a lot of miracles were purported to happen. There's some discussion in the movie of whether the vision and the miracles were genuine. Here's a link to the Wikipedia article about Lourdes.

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I had a harder time writing about Lourdes, I don't know why. But I think I sifted through quite a few of my feelings on it. From the Filmsweep blog:

A miracle does take place in Christine's life, but one that is open to interpretation by those surrounding her in the story, and the viewer of the film itself. Felt tension between science and religion directs her toward Catholic authorities and doctors who want to fully diagnose the authenticity of the miracle. The viewer tries to digest it, too, but options are certainly narrowed by the end. Is this act caused by a cruel, sadistic God who likes to play jokes on those in need, or are science and nature more unfair than we ever really want to admit?

The color and framing, and the juxtaposition between darkness and light make the film wonderful in the theater setting. The Bergmanesque feel of God in human relations creates formal shifts in perspective, like the spider in Through a Glass Darkly. The idea that we're aiming at a perspective, maybe even a handful of perspectives, rather than a truth, causes us to view from a side of the brain that favors open-ended hope over our cravings for concrete resolution. That is the film's greatest strength -- but it's also the film's hardest aspect. We long to see Christine healed and living as a "normal" human being, but we're left with questions about what healing actually is, and who is worthy of it, and why.

I am somwhat perplexed by this film, and that may be some of the point.

Edited by Persona

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I saw this at the weekend and was a little disappointed that, aside from Stef, no-one has much to say about it. Is it only the two of us who have seen it?

Matt

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Nope. I have made a few scattered comments around the board about this film. I was, and still am, completely floored by the end of Lourdes. The potential shift in perspective at the end of the film, which calls into question the very premise of the film itself, represents one of the best cinema representation of miracles I can think of.

And by extension, the film becomes an incredible point of departure for thinking about how God actually interacts with the world. How many times have we heard the following: I will pray for so-and-so to recover from their illness. But, what does that even mean? I am not asking this as a theological question, but an existential one. So we ask God to heal someone. They get better. What does that mean? Has God directly intervened in time and space. Has He unwound the fabric of this person's biological destiny?

How can we even tell? That really is the great narrative question of our prayer lives. How can we tell what is divine intervention and what isn't?

That question means a lot, because it really defines the essence of this terrible tension we live in.

I don't think Lourdes answers this question, but it does an alarmingly precise job at leading us to it. In and around this central question, the film layers little parabolic samples of the motivations we bring to praying for God's miraculous intervention in our affairs. The film seems to suggest that at a psychological level, the desire for God to act on our behalf becomes a smokescreen for our feelings of loneliness, fear, or even greed. This basic principle in turn produces ecclesial cultures that are petri dishes for eros, disdain, hatred, etc...

I may not be articulating my understanding of the film very well, but I found it very provocative, if not enlightening.

The other half of the coin here is the incredible sense of doom and loss the central character in Lourdes brings to the table, which in the end...

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Come on, Netflix. I've been waiting and waiting...

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As far as I know, Lourdes has never played in Vancouver -- not even at a festival or something. (A scan of my e-mail archives indicates that I have never received any press releases about any screenings here.) Netflix.ca doesn't have it either, alas.

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I am also anxious to hear from others if I am reading too much into this film or not. If I saw it right, it is a reasonably simple film until the end, at which point it becomes a theological Chinese finger trap.

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...a theological Chinese finger trap.

Ooooooh. That's one of the best "hooks" I've ever read for a movie. If you'd published that, it would have made a great blurb across the newspaper advertisement.

"A THEOLOGICAL CHINESE FINGER TRAP!!"

- Michael Leary, Filmwell

Edited by Overstreet

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I'd see any movie with that blurb on the poster.

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Thanks for that Mike, could you expand on this a bit:

I was, and still am, completely floored by the end of Lourdes. The potential shift in perspective at the end of the film, which calls into question the very premise of the film itself, represents one of the best cinema representation of miracles I can think of.
I liked that the film ended where it did, but it didn't hit me to the same extent it hit you. There are many elements of this film I am drawn to

the curious attitude of those running the tours, the question of grace and God's favour, hope vs doubt, genuine miracles vs coincidence vs psychosomatic healing vs temporary healing

but I'd love to appreciate the ending more.

Matt

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I am working at a disadvantage here. I need to rewatch the ending to make sure I am remembering it correctly, but

She is dancing. She stumbles and falters. She walks over to the edge of the room. Someone brings around her wheelchair for her, and she sits back down in it. This ending struck me as a Kierkegaardian parable. Is she healed, or not? If she has been healed, then why does she resign herself again to her wheelchair? If not, then how was she able to experience the miraculous, albeit brief freedom from her ailment? The tension between these two questions is immense, and I think we have to answer yes to both of them. She has been healed, and she hasn't been healed. It is a bit of a paradox. But regardless of how we answer these, she is ultimately, at the end of the film, back in her wheelchair.

I think this tension appears in the gospels as well, as Jesus is asked time and time again to produce signs that he is indeed Messiah. How does he respond to John the Baptist when he asks a similar question? Jesus says: "The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed." In essence, Jesus redirects the question right back to John. "What do you think, John? What do you think all these things mean? All I will say about the issue is this: If you don't get it, you are in trouble, because the Kingdom is upon us." In Luke's gospel, every miracle of healing means both freedom and doom at the same time, because they were God's means of speaking to His people. As markers of this redemption history, Luke poses Jesus' early miracles as chinese finger traps. Once you start asking for them as signs of God's presence, you can't extricate yourself from their implications. (This is a pretty terrible image: the cleansed leper being a sign of Israel's judgment.)

Lourdes captures the existential side of this issue very well. In an interview about the film, the director spoke of each character as a chess piece, and the entire film as a chessboard. Lourdes is a place where people go and play a giant game that is controlled by determined and endlessly repeated movements. Lourdes is posed as a place where we go and play the same miracle game with God that we see happening in the first half of Luke's gospel.

And so the end of the film, in which she sits back down in her wheelchair, we get a glimpse of this dramatic tension that occurs in miracles, in that they mean both freedom and doom at the same time. I sense an overwhelming sadness in the last moments of the film, watching her settle in the wheelchair with this terrible tension now looming over the entire script.

We can never look at a miracle without asking: Was that by God's hand or not? This is the tragic context in which we live. We will, at least until the world to come, be stuck on this chessboard.

Edited by M. Leary

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That's it. I'm sold. LOURDES has shot up to the very top of my "Must-See" list.

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Coming to Netflix 9/13/11!! Finally!

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This film is difficult to write about without spoiling anything, but I'm going to give it a try.

I thought a lot about The Passion of Joan of Arc watching this movie. I suppose that's a compliment to Hausner.

We become so intensely focused on Christine's face, trying to discern what she's thinking, what she might be feeling at any given moment. She's quite a contrast to Joan of Arc, of course, int that she's something of a skeptic, and intensely aware of the behaviors, privileges, and insensitivities of others. But nevertheless, we're watching her face, ready and eager to observe a moment of Intervention and Miracle if it comes.

And the gallery of personalities around her - doubters, mockers, seekers, servants - reminded me of the many telling expressions of those around Joan of Arc in The Passion.

I also thought about Todd Haynes' film Safe, which draws us into a similarly intense attention to its central character's expressions and silences. There, we're trying to understand a sort of curse rather than leaning in with the hope of a blessing. But Haynes's restraint and refusal to accommodate us is similar to Hausner's here.

The anticipation of the possibility of a miracle in this film does something to an audience, I think, that no special effect or music or composition or anything could achieve. I suspect even viewers who would say they're not religious will feel a powerful longing to see this young woman restored. The longing to see something happen - or at least the curiosity to see whether anything will happen - increases our attentiveness in the same way that we're entranced during the climactic moments of Ordet... but this time, for the duration of the film!

I'm glad that the film is as short as it is, because it was an exhausting experience for me. I don't know how much to credit the director for what I felt as the film played, but she's won my respect as much for what she doesn't do in this film as for what she does..

I'm impressed with Hausner's restraint, patience, and observant style. She weaves these characters' storylines together beautifully, so that we learn a great deal about them through such subtle expressions, postures, and gestures. And her casting here is inspired.

But I suspect that much of the film's emotional intensity simply comes from the subject at hand. I've been discouraged by so many films that dare to deal with subjects like this, that I approach them with a lot of skepticism. From the opening scene, I'm just braced for something to feel wrong about it. Lourdes is a movie that makes me feel like I'm holding my breath. I'm anxious that the film will spoil the matter with something that feels contrived, or with something that feels more like a statement instead of a question. And I feel my head arguing with my heart: my heart wants a story of healing, but my head disagrees, simply because I don't want it to be something anybody can describe as "heartwarming" or "uplifting" -- such stuff is usually synonymous with sentimental or trite.

But the farther Lourdes goes, the more I find myself hoping that the sense of mystery it cultivates will remain alive when the credits roll. Hausner's a high-wire walker who pulls off this performance without a single misstep. What a relief. This film is as respectful to the mystery of how God works in the world - or, for that matter, the mystery of if God works in the world at all - as just about any film I've seen, including Into Great Silence. It feels about as true-to-life in its depiction of these events as I can imagine a film being.

Throughout, I was reminded of the scriptures in which Christ laments a people who demand miracles, but who would reject him even if he provided those miracles. No matter how he blesses us, our hearts are still quite capable of generating doubts and questions that complicate the hard work of receiving. At the end, I was thinking about things I've asked God to give me that he has denied me; and I thought about petitions that he has granted, blessings that I take for granted and that have failed to increase my faith or change my habits.

I see a film like this, and I want to organize an event just to show it to an audience and get them talking.

I'm grateful to Ken and Michael and others who wrote about this film with enough enthusiasm to keep me checking on its availability for so long. I'm glad I finally got hold of it.

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Oh, one more thing:

Elina Löwensohn!!!!

Haven't seen her since Fay Grim. I really need to go back and revisit Nadja.

Edited by Overstreet

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I'm grateful to Ken and Michael and others who wrote about this film with enough enthusiasm to keep me checking on its availability for so long. I'm glad I finally got hold of it.

Wow, thank you. That's an incredibly nice thing to say.

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"... it'll be a real miracle if anyone manages to stay awake throughout this extravagantly dull film."

Really, Kyle Smith?

REALLY?

And this after you drop The Big Spoiler in your one-sentence Rotten Tomatoes blurb?

I have two words for you, Kyle Smith.

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I still haven't had a chance to finish up a review on this, even though I still mentally refer to this film when talking about miracles in the gospels. I agree that this film really only succeeds because it preserves a tension instead of attempting to unravel a mystery, which I find... courageous.

Your shared enthusiasm motivates me to finish that up, and I particularly like how you picked up on the wide cast of characters in this great script.

Edited by M. Leary

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FWIW, Hausner in an interview on the region 1 DVD, Hausner

several times refers to the central act as a "miracle" and states that she wanted to make a film about a "miracle."

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FWIW, Hausner in an interview on the region 1 DVD, Hausner

several times refers to the central act as a "miracle" and states that she wanted to make a film about a "miracle."

OTOH, she has also said that she wanted to use Lourdes "as a stage for a fairy tale." She has also said,

Lourdes is a (cruel) fairy-tale, a day-dream or a nightmare. Ill people of the entire world go to Lourdes hoping to get their health back, hoping for a miracle, because Lourdes is a place where the existence of miracles is still asserted, a place synonymous of hope, comfort and recovery for the desperate and the dying. But the ways of God are unfathomable, and the hope that on the verge of death, everything may turn out alright is one that seems absurd when life is drawing to an end. Lourdes is the stage on which this human comedy plays out.

The phrase "cruel fairy tale" has been applied by others to Lourdes the film, but in context it looks like Hausner may have meant Lourdes itself.

BTW, I am an admirer of the film and placed it on my Top 10 last year.

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I just noticed that Lourdes is on Netflix Instant now. (I think it was only in their DVD service before.)

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Does anyone know what the song(s) Christine dances to at the end are? It seems like it should be important, but Netflix didn't subtitle the lyrics. (I've run into that on a few other films, too.)

About the ending:

Would it be an acceptable conclusion to just say that she got back in the chair because she overdid it and was tired? She hasn't walked it quite a while before the miracle, and there were a few lines about needing to let her body readjust. Or would that kind of gradual healing not be considered a real miracle?

The question of how long a miracle needs to last in order to "count" was intriguing, too. I've thought that the mere fact of something impossible happening, regardless of the duration, makes it miraculous, but that isn't the official position given in the film. Would it be okay to interpret a temporary miracle as a glimpse of eternity?

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