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When the script for Lourdes (2009) first landed on Sylvie Testud's desk, her initial reaction was that she didn't want to do anything that might involve her playing a nun or taking easy potshots at religion. She instantly changed her mind after reading the script. See more »
Christine (Sylvie Testud) is wheelchair-bound, and is suffering from multiple sclerosis. She travels to the pilgrimage site of Lourdes in the Pyrenees Mountains to both escape from her isolation, and seek some kind of answers to her situation. Compared to the other pilgrims, Christine has little faith in God. Yet while she's there, she miraculously gains controls of her limbs and she rises from her wheelchair. The church are quick to jump on it as a 'miracle', but seek medical advice in order to confirm this.
The film never takes a stance in regards to its attitude to either religion or spirituality, to the point where the 'miracle' that takes place takes a backseat. This is a film that is more concerned with its characters' plight, and how the people around Christine react to the possible miracle that they witness. It does, if anything, portray the Catholic faith in a positive light. The priest seeks all the medical advice he can get before he will believe it as a miracle, and the helpers at Lourdes (minus one rather self-involved girl) are shown to have genuine love for the work they do, and its importance. But it does also show the slightly ridiculous side, as the Church will only recognise it as an 'official' miracle if it ticks certain boxes.
it does not linger on the idea of faith, as previously stated, but instead how it corrupts, bewilders, and enchants the people around Christine. Some of the pilgrims talk bitterly between themselves and doubt her sincerity, to the point where they begin to dismiss the idea of miracles, which is the very thing that they went to Lourdes to experience. One of the male helpers initially shows an interest in Christine, glancing and smiling at her every now and then. Yet when she begins to walk again, he seems to almost completely fall for her, much to the jealousy of one of the female workers. It's a startling commentary on how humanity can be corrupted and influenced by the idea of religion.
Lourdes is a quiet, gentle and ponderous portrayal of a woman desperately seeking an answer to her illness and finding it in the last place she would expect. It doesn't force its ideas down your throat, but instead it lets it flow across the small interactions and expressions of its characters. The pace may sometimes come to a standstill, but this is a richly rewarding experience from one of Austria's most exciting new directors.
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