17 February 2006 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »
BERLIN -- The death of a Catholic woman in West Germany while undergoing the Catholic rite of exorcism in 1976 has inspired a second film within the past few months. Following the American "Exorcism of Emily Rose" in September comes "Requiem", a German film by Hans-Christian Schmid, whose estimable "Distant Light" lit up the Berlinale three years ago. While "Exorcism" focused on a murder-trial battle between the priest and a prosecutor, Schmid's film beautifully details the behavior, events and socio-religious pressures that lead to the decision to perform such an extreme ritual.
So there are no spinning heads or pea soup, still so vividly recalled from William Friedkin's horror classic "The Exorcist". Rather Schmid and writer Bernd Lange pay close attention to all things that help answer the most obvious question: Why would anyone submit to an exorcism?
After debuting in Berlin, "Requiem" could prove a sellable item for Bavaria International. A North American sale might be iffy, but the film should generate plenty of theatrical and later television and video interest in Europe.
Michaela (Sandra Huller in a marvelous feature debut) grows up in a small southern German town in the 1970s. Hers is a deeply religious family with a warm father (Burghart Klaussner) and a cold, disapproving mother (Imogen Kogge). She has long suffered seizures diagnosed as epilepsy without the doctors ever being entirely certain. Nevertheless, she is given a regimen of pills to swallow daily and then more pills to offset side effects of the earlier ones.
Michaela, 21, is desperate to go to the university to obtain a teaching degree. Her father supports her but her mother is terrified something might happen because of her condition. Michaela prevails but university life brings stress. She loves the freedom, but the pressure of studying, new friendships and a first love with Stefan (Nicholas Reinke), all away from the protective shell of her parents' home, takes a toll.
During her first year, she suffers a mental breakdown. But her upbringing and a self-assured local priest (Jens Harzer) force her to see the condition in religious terms. During seizures she believes she sees faces and hears voices. Indeed so great is her fear of the psychiatric, she actually takes refuge in the notion she must be possessed.
The film observes the descent into madness and the differing interpretations of this condition by her family, priest, boyfriend and best mate (Anna Blomeier) without judgment or condemnation. Schmid and Lange clearly care deeply for this heroine in such physical and mental anguish. In a sense, Michaela plays into the hands of the priest and mother, who believe this is the work of the devil. She is determined to fit that mold rather than the one requiring confinement in a "loony bin." The father and village priest (Walter Schmidinger), who more clearly understand what ails the young woman, cannot stand up to the united front of true believers.
Designer Christian M. Goldbeck fuzzies period details so the era is not important. Schmid allows no music other than source music so that nothing can pander to emotionalism. Bogumil Godfrejow's cinematography is straightforward, keeping the focus on the unfolding tragedy.
"Requiem" shuns finger-pointing and easy jabs at religion. Its heroine crumbles under the onslaught of sexual awakening, feelings of guilt, religious confusion and mental instability. Religion supplies a false answer, but it's an open question whether psychiatry would have helped her either. n
Bavaria Film International presents a 23/5 Filmproduktion with SWR, ARTE, WDR and BR
Director-producer: Hans-Christian Schmid
Screenwriter: Bernd Lange
Director of photography: Bogumil Godfrejow
Production designer: Christian M. Goldbeck
Costume designer: Bettina Marx
Editors: Hansjorg Weissbrich, Bernd Schlegel
Michaela Klingler: Sandra Huller
Karl: Burghart Klaussner
Marianne: Imogen Kogge
Hanna: Anna Blomeier
Stefan: Nicholas Reinke
Gerhard Landauer: Walter Schmidinger
Martin Borchert: Jens Harzer
No MPAA rating
Running time -- 93 minutes
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