It was clear from the start that this film was intended to be something much more interesting than a standard piece of straightforward storytelling, and to a great extent it succeeded. It had an original format, being composed of fourteen longish takes in which the camera either didn’t move at all or moved very little. As far as the camerawork and editing were concerned it could almost have been a Béla Tarr film, but the similarity ended there: here we had colour, lots of dialogue and plenty of action. The alignment of the fourteen scenes with the fourteen stations of the cross wasn’t always 100% successful, but neither was it in any way annoying and it did move the film along nicely.
— SPOILER WARNING !!! —
Important plot details might be revealed beyond this point…
The story reminded me somewhat of ‘Carrie’, with the religiously obsessed mother trying to protect her daughter from the evils of the modern world and ruining her life in the process, but whereas in ‘Carrie’ things start to go wrong when the daughter rebels against her strict upbringing, in this film exactly the opposite happens, and the daughter actually goes too far on the religious path: far from taking anyone with her to Hell, she finishes the film by performing a miracle and (presumably) going up to join her beloved Jesus in Heaven.
For the most part this film is every bit as much an indictment of religion, at least in its more extreme forms, as ‘Carrie’ or (more seriously) ‘Philomena’ or ‘The Magdalene Sisters’, but then it turns out that Maria achieves exactly what she wants to achieve by dying, and gets the miracle she’d been hoping for. My initial reaction to this was disappointment – the film had suddenly changed from a powerful complaint against religion into a piece of Christian propaganda – but I soon decided that this unexpected move had actually saved it from being a somewhat predictable cliché and turned it into something more interesting.
The most striking character in the film is definitely the mother, whose evil personality overshadows even Maria’s goodness. In the scene at the undertaker’s it becomes obvious how big a role pride and personal ambition play in her religiosity, when with a smiling face she sums up all the factors, including the attested miracle and the fact that Maria had taken Holy Communion before she died, which will certainly suffice to have her Maria declared blessed. She even goes so far as to point out that her Holy Communion, according to the rules, was not invalidated by the fact that she hadn’t been able to swallow the host. All this is more than enough to counterbalance the strange event at Maria’s death (which took place at exactly 3 p.m.!), even if it was a real miracle. Or maybe it would be better to say that the mother’s evil doesn’t contradict the daughter’s goodness, which, I think, was what the director intended (as one reviewer put it, “fanatics are dangerous, but their victims may still be saints”).
This film was very well made, with some impressive acting, especially by Lea van Acken (Maria) and Moritz Knapp (Christian), who both really were about fourteen when the film was made, and by Franziska Weisz in the role of Maria’s evil bitch of a mother. It wasn’t perfect though. I sometimes felt that it was bit too superficial and that there were missed opportunities where a better director would have got much more out of what was in itself a brilliant idea. One good example of this was the final very short scene, ‘Jesus is laid in the tomb’, which simply implied (in a somewhat heavy-handed way) that Maria had gone up to Heaven. A more open ending which left a bit more to the imagination of the viewer would have gone a long way towards turning this very good film into a real masterpiece.
|seen||08/12/2014, at the cinema|