‘Lourdes’, directed by Jessica Hausner in 2009, is a French drama set at the famous site of Catholic pilgrimage. Sylvie Testud plays Christine, a woman with severe multiple sclerosis who is unable to move below the neck. She, along with other afflicted people, is taken on the pilgrimage and cared for by nuns. The film follows her time there focusing on the relationships between herself, the nuns and the other pilgrims, and depicts her as she apparently makes a miraculous recovery. There is an ambiguity at the centre of this film. On the surface, and taken at face-value, ‘Lourdes’ appears to be a film about the power of faith, but the ending of the film casts this into doubt. There is a measure in the pace of the film, a feeling of quietness and rhythm that complements the narrative. I was reminded of Emilio Estevez’s ‘The Way’ in the techniques Hausner uses to relay the serenity and severity of pilgrimage – but unlike the devout American movie, there is a cynical clinical-ness at the heart of this film that undercuts the reverence. It’s a film that presents religious experience in a way you would expect to see in a Dardenne brothers movie – and as such it is full of hypnotically uneventful scenes made profound by the subtle actions or glances of characters. For all its silence and subtlety there is an undercurrent of hypocrisy in ‘Lourdes’, in the ways the characters approach the possibility of the miracle and in their reactions to it.
Would I recommend it? It’s glacially paced but pleasingly detailed – the subtlety of the action brings the complex and deep emotions and motivations of the characters to the fore. Watch in a double bill with ‘The Way’.