Saturday, March 13, 2010

79) Lourdes (2009)

79) Lourdes (2009) Dir: Jessica Hausner Date Released: February 2010 Date Seen: March 1, 2010 Rating: 4/5

Andrew Schenker was right for (very mildly) chiding me about a stray line in my Mid-August Lunch review where I called Gianni Di Gregario's film the second major import after The Paranoids. I had completely forgotten about Lourdes, an omission that I now greatly regret. Lourdes is a deeply felt look at contemporary agnosticism, a subject that has always fascinated me as I myself waver between agnosticism and fleeting bouts of religious belief. Writer/director Jessica Hausner's film bowled me over because she doesn't judge her characters even when they're not behaving admirably. The petty jealousies and desires of a group of Christian pilgrims expecting pitiably a miracle to befall them are never singled out so that they can be dismissed as individual passions. On the contrary, they are representative emotions, human in the some of the most broad and yet most easily recognizable ways.

Hausner films her pilgrims through staggering long takes that all initially look as if they were composed by an omniscient authorial God that does not want us, the viewers that are sharing Her POV for the film's duration, to immediately know what we're looking at. Our eyes are meant to shift instinctively from the various subjects in each frame, even if Hausner almost always eventually shifts the camera ever so slightly to focus on Christine (Sylvie Testud). Through that cool, proudly composed aesthetic, the viewer feels the pressure that Christine undergoes throughout the film and especially in the film's third act. Now the audience understands experientially why the film's pilgrims, who have spent so long looking for signs of progress or even just signs of momentary respite from their permanent psychic discomforts, they usually wind up mistrusting their eyes. Hausner lets us have our debts, allowing us to sympathize with the characters while acknowledging the expectations they and we are putting on Christine. It's the king of neo-Brechtian technique that's precise when it could simply be ostentatious. Penetrating and mesmerizing, especially during the very last scene.

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