Brian Whitney

Subtle film rewards attention

By - Sep 11th, 2010 04:00 am
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Photo courtesy of ARTE Films.

Approximately 55 minutes into the film Lourdes, a priest and a religious official are having a conversation. The official asks the priest, “Is God all-powerful or good? If He were all-powerful and good, He could heal everyone, couldn’t He?” The priest replies, “He does. But for some it’s more discreet. It’s on the inside, you see?”

This turns out to be a fairly apt description of Lourdes, a film written and directed by Austrian Jessica Hausner that appears in Milwaukee for the first time as part of the UWM Union Theatre’s Fall lineup. It tells the tale of Christine (Sylvie Testud), a young woman afflicted with multiple sclerosis. Ms. Testud’s performance is compelling enough to lead you to believe that she may, in fact, be an MS sufferer herself (she isn’t.) Bound to a wheelchair, she takes an opportunity to visit Lourdes, a French village known for its shrines, which supposedly have the power to heal the sick.

And although Christine is eventually healed, the film ultimately isn’t really about that, but about how people react to the fortune, and misfortune, of others.

The film takes its time making these points, and forces you to pay attention to the smallest details in order to really get the message. The willingness to focus does pay off, as the entire cast turn in excellent performances, most notably Elina Lowensohn as Cecile, the nurse in charge of the pilgrimage group. Her onscreen presence is both fiercely intimidating and slyly funny, in a way that really demands to be seen in order to be appreciated.

However, the bulk of the credit for the film’s success belongs to Ms. Hausner, who, as writer and director, manages to make a subtle, minimal film that doesn’t bore and isn’t strictly for film majors. Many of the small details in the film are actually quite funny, interesting given the serious nature of the subject matter and the pace of the movie.

For example, the film’s climactic scene takes place at a dance held for the religious pilgrims. As the serious events of the movie are playing out, one of the main characters joins the dance’s MC to sing a song called “Felicita,” originally performed by the husband and wife group Al Bano and Romina Power. The song’s lyrics, translated to English, are about finding happiness in the little things in life (a glass of wine and a sandwich, a birthday card, and so on), making a humorous pairing with the onscreen action.

It seems like an odd choice at first, but ultimately it does summarize the film quite well. The viewer’s ability to pay attention to the smallest details, to notice the little things, will be rewarded with a well executed story.

Lourdes is currently playing at the UWM Union Theatre ( 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.). Screening dates/times: Saturday, Sept. 11 at 3 and 7 p.m,; Sunday, Sept. 12 at 5 p.m.

Categories: Movies

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