My review of Dietrich Brüggemann’s unforgettable Stations of the Cross is over at Flickering Myth now and also appears below…
As an examination of the stark series of messages sent out by the most extreme of monotheistic religions, Stations of the Cross stands out as a beautifully pained and stylistic piece of cinema.
Taking an episodic approach to the troubled Maria’s (the alternately tough and ethereal Lea van Acken) life and attempts to become more like Jesus, the film is mostly composed of static scenes, with the poetically translated dialogue (from the original German) and soul searching looks and glances revealing a masterpiece of reserved high-impact film-making. Recalling the central themes of faith and belief of some of Ingmar Bergman’s best work, the emotionally affecting film uncovers just how unquestioning faith impacts on individuals, families and communities.
The film focuses on the fourteen year old girl Maria as she struggles to make sense of her life and her surroundings. All standard coming of age stuff of course, but in Maria’s case, it is a little different. With an upbringing centred around extreme Catholicism and a domineering, bullying mother (Franziska Weisz), Maria has plenty of strange thoughts running around her head.
Chief of these is the firm belief that she needs to replicate Jesus’s journey to the crucifixion – the so called Stations of the Cross. Little can persuade her to think any other way- not the sympathetic but ultimately powerless family au-pair (Lucie Aron), and certainly not her doormat father. Not even a charming choirboy from another more mainstream church who takes an interest in her can divert her from her prophetic visions of spiritual abandonment. The powerful feeling that she has had no choice at all is overwhelming and tremendously disturbing. As a psychological horror story, this is about as real as it gets.
The first scene involving Maria and her religious class receiving instruction and details of their upcoming confirmation from their young priest (Michael Kamp) subtly illustrates the levels of extremity involved in this rural church-offshoot. Operating as a kind of cult, the church is expressly interested in absolute conclusions and absolutist types of belief. Once talks turn around to a ‘modern crusade’, there is little doubt as to the old school approach to dogmatic thinking and theory on show.
In a set-up such as this, the introspective and resolute Maria hangs on every word. Taking the word of the priest as absolute and uncontrolled truth leaves her with only one route to go.
The following chapters challenge the ideas of faith as a necessary route to spiritual understanding. Indeed, there is little doubt as to how the film’s maker Brüggemann stands on the issue, with Maria suffering the sort of psychological abuse that leaves her eventual journey to replicate her personal Jesus as unsurprising as it is sympathetic. The subtle and controlling measures of the most extreme theocracies are exposed here in a demanding and ultimately rewarding tale of timeless clarity.