Sunday, November 18, 2012


2009, 96 min. Not rated – no language, nudity, nothin’. An easy “PG” unless you’re put off by ambiguous endings and some disease.
IMDB says... In order to escape her isolation, wheelchair-bound Christine makes a life changing journey to Lourdes, the iconic site of pilgrimage in the Pyrenees Mountains.

The 73rd Virgin says... There may be some spoilers in this review, although “life-changing” might be a clue. Clips are over-sized for subtitles. It seems 46-inch screens encourage small subs.

A still camera opens onto a nicely appointed dining room where waiters arrange food and place settings. From the right, in creep the first few members of a tour group pilgrimaging to Lourdes to take the miraculous waters. And then – zzzzip - here comes a little dude tear-assin' in, in his wheelchair. From here we know this will probably not be a typical drama. We briefly meet wan and lovely wheelchair-bound (we don’t know why, yet) Christine, who stops and smiles intriguingly directly into the camera. She admits that she does pilgrimages mostly as a way to get out of the house and see the world.

We also meet the tightly wound, officious tour guide, Cecile, and her volunteer attendants who provide care for the pilgrims, and the dreamy guards/traffic cops who accompany the group. Large Gallic noses abound. Although the volunteers dress a little like novitiate nuns, they are mostly just local young women interested in what they ought to be interested in.

It seems director Jessica Hausner has almost documentarian access to the sacred happenings at Lourdes and she films it all from a cool respectful distance, and then inserts the dramatic story where it fits. I’m fairly touchy about such things, but I don’t detect any ill will toward religion, the religious, or the pilgrims. A nighttime scene is awe-inspiring.

God help me, what kept springing to mind was Steve McQueen’s similarly dispassionate French docudrama, LeMans.

As Christine and her attendant do the rounds at all the sacred places we get to observe the endless juxtaposition of the sacred and the mundane - the spiritual and the crass - which is inevitable in a town of 15,000 that hosts millions of pilgrims every year. We also meet other members of the tour group. Christine’s nameless roommate is a devout woman with a stroke-damaged face. She will ask the tough questions of a kind-hearted priest who has deflected tougher ones than this. She’s looking for some old-time proscription. He’s fresh out. His friend, a senior guard, appears to be there to act like Claude Rains in Casablanca.

The nearly silent roommate will observe the volunteer’s declining interest in Christine and will begin shepherding Christine around herself. Christine will begin to have a glimmer that something notable is happening, and Cecile also has her suspicions. In good Catholic style, she gently pisses on Christine’s cornflakes. She’s not cruel, just operating on a different plane. And her odd-looking hair should be a clue. She’s dying.

Cecile also has a scene where she turns and smiles directly into the camera. I don’t know why. I also don’t know why the service is in English.

Whether due to Cecile’s sacrifice, or the roommate’s devotion, Christine’s frank confession, the waters, the nighttime service, God’s capricious hand, nature, or you name it, Christine wakes in the middle of the night and walks to the bathroom.

Now she’s a star, with all the pressures and insecurities that must follow. Some of her tour mates are a little jealous and disappointed. The priest undercuts her confidence a bit.

And she must wake up every morning in terror that the miracle won’t stick. With great wordless acting Sylvie Testud communicates that terror by breathing quickly until waking - then stopping as her eyes open - then starting again as we stare transfixed to see if her hands will move or not.

I couldn’t wait to see how this ended, and I wish I could, in Christian conscience, show the long and brilliant final scene. An apparent miracle for the ages is celebrated under red balloons with couples dancing to bad karaoke. Perhaps Christ, hanging on the cross and occupied with saving mankind, looked down and saw some dudes dicing for his clothes and between, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”, and, “into Your hands, I commend my spirit”, He thought, “some dance music would be nice”.

Whether the miracle will stick or not, Christine is keenly aware of her isolation. She has experienced anguish, doubt, transcendent hope and giddy joy. And like heroes, prophets, soldiers and saviors since time immemorial, she’s on the sidelines watching disinterested people dance mechanically to something that sounds like “Felicidad”.

A nice erudite and concise review can be found here. Why am I jealous?

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