Posted 16 October 2011 - 12:27 AM
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.