Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Movie Review: Lourdes

Lourdes ***
Directed by:
Jessica Hausner.
Written By: Jessica Hausner.
Starring: Sylvie Testud (Christine), Léa Seydoux (Maria), Gilette Barbier (Fr. Hartl), Gerhard Liebmann (Pater Nigl), Bruno Todeschini (Kuno), Elina Löwensohn (Cécile), Katharina Flicker (Sonja), Linde Prelog (Frau Huber), Heidi Baratta (Frau Spor).

Lourdes is a film that doesn’t even attempt to answer any of the questions it asks – and I think that is right approach. Every audience member watching the film is going to have to figure out for themselves what this all means – if it in fact means anything at all. It is a film about faith and as such, the questions it asks are the ones we all ask all the time – and never really come up with an answer.

Sylvie Testud gives a remarkable performance as Christine. Stricken with MS, and confined to a wheelchair, she is in effect a prisoner of her own body – dependant on others to move her around and feed her. She is part of a group of pilgrims visiting Lourdes – that place in France where apparently Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary, and has ever since been said to possess healing powers. She is with a large group of people who are there for the same reasons – only their ailments differ. I think it goes without saying that Christine will eventually be “cured” – but whether or not we have witnessed a miracle is never really addressed.

Taken as a straight forward narrative, Lourdes is a kind of dull – the film at only 98 minutes drags in several spots as writer/director Jessica Hausner does repeat herself a little too often. And yet, this is not really a movie about WHAT happens, but rather a movie about your interpretation of WHY it happens at all.

The key to the movie is Tetsud, who is wonderful in the lead role. For most of the film, she remains unreadable – betraying little emotion or frustration with her current state. Everything happens behind the eyes with her, as she watches the young volunteer assigned to her make eyes at a young man, and feels perhaps a touch of jealously. Her roommate is a largely silent woman who has had a stroke – her mouth droops down at the sides – who seems to think that perhaps her own fate is tied with Christine’s – and never really wants to let her out of her sight at all.

One day, late in the trip, Christine simply gets out of bed at night and goes to the bathroom. It’s a miracle everyone proclaims. The doctors are not quite so sure, as they explain other factors it could be. The fact that she, and not anyone else, is cured leads to jealously and resentment from the others on the trip. It all comes to a head in two sequences – one on a trip to a mountain, where Christine gets what she was coveting earlier in the film, and finally at a dance to close out the trip. The final shot of the movie is one of the most mysterious of any film of the year – one where you cannot help but ask yourself what it all means. Whatever it is, Christine isn’t telling.

Lourdes is a film that I think can be taken pretty much anyway you want to. If you want believe that it is the story of a miracle, then it works that way. If it’s just the story of a medical coincidence, than the movies has that covered as well. And perhaps in that last shot, something more insidious is implied. Christine wouldn’t be faking her illness, would she?
I am resigned to the fact that I will never know the answers to the questions that Lourdes asks. It is better that way – to simply sit back and observe, to question what we believe and why. If God is around or not, Lourdes is a film that simply asks you to ask the tough questions. Whatever answer you come up with, is fine.

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