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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 »
Jessica Hausner's story of a young woman who appears to be cured of MS whilst on pilgrimage to Lourdes is a patient, fluid film that moves between satire and compassion. It often exhibits a genuine empathy for the core tenets and consequent outward trappings of Catholicism. As a general examination of the Catholic faith it's accurate and probing, capturing the unavoidable selfishness and vanity of us all even in the face of our own attempts at generosity or even piety.
Yet I liked this film more because the omnipresent core of Catholicism recedes as subject. Quietly but surely, the individuals become the focus of the film. Of course, at the centre is Sylvie Testud's Christine, a marvellous performance in which intellect and emotion is in perpetual, discreet motion - but there's no self-pity and, apart from a rather dislocated intonation of standard liturgical incantations, no mention of God. Christine doesn't reject the theme park of piety revolving about her but she seems to find it a focus for a personal confrontation with her affliction. Key to the offsetting of this is a performance of equal discretion and focus, that of the genuinely pious but equally worldly Gilette Barbier as Frau Hartl, with whom Christine shares a room. The other satellite roles are all well-taken; I did like that Léa Seydoux never overdid her turn as the immature nurse assigned to Christine.
A well designed and paced film, Lourdes also has a moments of wit. It not only examines the nature of devotion but does so in the appositely Christian context of an interesting yarn. 7/10
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