Directed by Dietrich Brüggemann
Religion is a touchy subject. In this movie we see religious fanaticism at its extreme, as a girl (Maria) is convinced that she is to be a servant to God. The movie’s story revolves around the absurd dedication she and her family share towards their chosen religion, often beyond reason. Depicted in this film is Catholicism, but the events shown could be applied to almost any religion when radical beliefs are taken too far. If we look past the religion there is more going on in this film than you might think. We begin the movie in a traditional Catholic church that shuns all modern churches and the changes that have come as a result of them.
What makes this movie a great watch is that it doesn’t take an obvious side or show any bias. The film can be enjoyed and interpreted in any way one wishes. Religious/spiritual material is going to resonate a little differently for every person, whether they are religious, atheist, agnostic, or any other label that is slapped on a person’s spiritual beliefs. Maria is told in the opening chapter of the film that she is a warrior of God, and that sacrifices must be made, temptations must be avoided in order to remain ‘pure’. Maria unfortunately takes this concept a little too far.
Talk of modern music containing demonic rhythms (which naturally leads to the bullying of Maria) demonstrates not only how religion can alienate young people, but also the effect a parent’s behaviour can have on their children. Maria is so fastidious about her religion because her mother barks at her constantly, threatening to send her to a Catholic boarding school because of a perceived impure action. Maria starts to become convinced that she is a horribly sinful person. One side character, Bernadette, lives with the family but isn’t a family member. She is the only one who seems to understand what Maria is going through, and they are obviously close friends. At one point she actually protests against Maria’s mother’s orders. Despite this relationship she becomes helpless as Maria’s beliefs about her supposed sin-filled life become more absurd and departed from reality.
While Maria is the main character being studied here, her mother is probably more interesting in her stubborn religious beliefs. Not only does she inflict these beliefs on her entire family, she has a short temper and barks like a drill instructor with her stern and authoritative tone of voice. Her character arc, as well as her daughter’s, is fascinating and again shows the potential problems that can come with fanatical religious beliefs of any faith. She also provides some material for some dark laughs, especially near the end of the film, though this humour will not resonate with everyone. I especially loved the father’s role, which is essentially listening to his wife’s orders to their children while not saying a word. It is a dark, humourous look at a husband who has let his wife take over the family, barely speaking a word until necessary. More dark humour can be found in most of the script – particularly if you are as familiar with Catholicism as I am. Six years at an all-boys Catholic school taught me more than enough!
Separated into 14 chapters for the fourteen Stations of the Cross, each chapter is shot from a fixed camera, with no movement apart from the final scene. Fourteen different camera angles literally make up this entire movie. This may be a test of some viewers’ patience, but the narrative and script is extremely well written and is enough to draw in the viewer despite the unusual, extremely minimalistic approach to the photography. The main characters are exaggerated for more dark laughs, as the reasons for being accused of sinful behaviour become increasingly strange – which also accurately describes the events of the second half of this film.
4/5 – I like art films, I like foreign films, and I like well written drama. That religion fascinates me is a bonus, and I found myself riveted by the narrative, while somehow transfixed by the constant unmoving camera. This movie says a lot of things, but again I feel this film’s commentary can be taken in limitless ways, whether a person is religious or not. If anything I’d call myself a Buddhist, and I enjoyed this movie immensely.
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