Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Watching for... LOURDES (2009, Austria/France/Germany)

"What is healing? Who is worthy of it, and why? Do miracles still happen outside of anomalies in science and nature? Does God exist, favoring one physical location? Can we verify the authenticity of those who claim He's brought a miracle, and do miracles only happen in that one physical place? Lourdes tackles all the tough questions, and breaks through with such a restrained, feminine touch that metaphysical questions like this lead less to anger than to a gentle, tender probing. A nuanced performance by Sylvie Testud as wheelchair-bound Chrstine on pilgrimage and a dip into sacred territory by writer/director Jessica Hausner make this examination of devotion to faith a noticeable standout as one of the year's best films. The intersection between science and religion has made its way into film since Frankenstein (1931), and at the end of Lourdes we're still trying to figure out whether God is the benevolent healer, or a monster in the heavens watching nature play its cruel tricks." Filmsweep

"Jessica Hausner’s new film Lourdes may be the most mysterious film screened at this year’s Toronto film festival, one that takes a story of religious and spiritual import and casts that world and those themes down a gauntlet that suggests Hitchcock and Tati in its supremely calibrated conceptual suspense and encircling humor. The story finds a wheelchair-bound Sylvie Testud, whose character is suffering from multiple-sclerosis, traveling with a group of pilgrims to the French town of Lourdes. We hear tales of miracles, and Hausner’s restrained and stripped down aesthetic—touch points being Kaurismaki, Haneke, Roy Andersson and Eugène Green—in collaboration with its subject resembles the mise-en-scène of films that attempt to evoke a hushed world investigating if not conjuring the spiritual. Yet the tone of Lourdes is forever uncertain, or perhaps indescribable; that is, Hausner is certain of the tone she is creating but the result is ambiguous. . . .
"The structuring principle of the film, derived from Hitchcock, is to conceptualize a situation pregnant with constant audience expectation. Nearly from the first scenes we are introduced to a film world that suggests a miracle is coming, and throughout Hausner’s mix of process, drama, and even a degree of restrained documentary on the sites, rituals, and pilgrims of Lourdes, we sit awaiting a manifest revelation for Sylvie Testud. When it comes, Lourdes then cannily plays the opposite game; whereas in the first half we avidly wait for something special to happen, in the second half we wait with perhaps greater baited breath for that thing to be taken away. . . .
"Expectation positive and negative, then, thoroughly pervades the film, an expectation for the kind of event that in a film by Bresson, Tarkovsky, or Dumont might be more clear cut but in Lourdes takes on this odd, calculated tone of humor, sincerity, longing, cynicism, and melancholy. . . .
"LOURDES doesn’t appear programmatic and out to prove something. What it is out for may be a mystery, but its beautiful pictorial precision, hushed weirdness, and human anchoring by the silent movie captivating power of Sylvie Testud (were she alive in the 1920s she would be a global superstar) makes for a strangely beguiling, austere experience of suspense, spirit, and comedy."
Daniel Kasman, theauteurs.com

"Jessica Hausner's LOURDES demonstrates that moral values are mutable even within the parameters of religious faith. The film centers on wheelchair-bound Christine (Sylvie Tstudi), who suffers from multiple sclerosis and takes part in pilgrimages for secular reasons - travel and socializing - under the care of Order of Malta officers and volunteers. One morning, she finds she is able to move her hand. . . ."
Nicole Armour reporting on the Toronto International Film Festival
Film Comment, November-December 2009

Winner: Vienna Film Prize, best film at the Viennale, Nov 2009


Joe said...

I have posted (three times, I think now!) about this film. Your readers might be interested to read my thoughts about it, and any comments they might wish to make would be welcome.

Anonymous said...

I have question: What is the intended role of the older woman who intervenes and wheels Christine's chair? Her presence in the final scene of the film, again offering the chair and whispering in Christine's ear as other dance is strange and hypnotic...and hints at evil.