Monday, March 07, 2011


Lourdes (2009, Austria/France/Germany, Jessica Hausner)

Religion is a divisive element in the human race. It causes wars, divides families, heals and saves people while also leading them down a destructive path. There are struggles over whether God exists and then over which religion is the true path to salvation. Reincarnation is not accepted universally nor is the promise of afterlife. Yet, a majority of the human race still holds faith in some form of religion or God. Then there are those who do not believe in God but believe in an entity of some kind that holds sway over humans. The various faiths may differ but they are still united in their belief towards an omnipresent yet unseen force. The only substantial evidence comes in the form of a miracle, a sign that a higher power does indeed exist. This sign could be an act of a statue accepting a form of human devotion (example: the drinking of milk by Ganesh statues) or it could be an unexpected healing of a person.

Jessica Hausner’s film takes place in Lourdes, a place where millions flock every year to either get healed or observe a sign from a higher power. If people's intentions for making a pilgrimage to Lourdes is a selfish need, then it is inevitable that the small town will be buzzing with gossip and anticipation. The film shows that gossip spreads like wildfire because everyone believes they have an equal chance to get healed. One would expect a dedicated religious person to have better odds of observing a miracle but there are no rational answers as to who can get healed. In Hausner’s film, even the priests are forced to concede the often repeated statement “God works in mysterious ways”. As a result, each and every person who heads to Lourdes believes that a miracle is within reach.

The main character of Lourdes, a gentle and smiling Christine (played perfectly by Sylvie Testud), does not hold any bitterness in her heart, even though she is confined to a wheelchair. Christine also does not let her limited mobility get in the away of making various trips around Europe. Her conversations indicate that she often travels on pilgrimages and cites Rome as her favourite on the basis of the Italian capital’s cultural superiority over Lourdes. Christine has feelings for one of the male officers accompanying them on their pilgrimage trip but those feelings are only one way until Christine is touched by a miracle. The unexpected miracle brings some delight in people around Christine while arouses jealousy and distrust in others. The distrust arises because a miracle is portrayed to be like winning the lottery -- once someone is cured, then no one else can win the life changing prize on a particular trip.

Jessica Hausner brilliantly presents her film with dry wit and humour. The pilgrimage events are depicted documentary style while the script gently pokes fun at the beliefs, rituals and certain egoistic people seeking a miracle. The film does not openly satirize the characters but instead allows audience to derive their own sentiments. Such a vague and open ended presentation of faith and belief brings to mind the style of Todd Haynes’ Safe and Lee Chang-dong’s Secret Sunshine, two films that also present events in a straight forward manner while subtly eliciting laughs at the expense of people who blindly buy into someone else’s beliefs.


Sam Juliano said...

Absolutely fantastic piece here Sachin. I love the framing religion and it's divisive aspects, and the excellent delineation of an unseen force, that governs the realm of belief. This serves of course as a proper lead in for the subsequent examination of LOURDES, a film I placed in the #1 position on my 2010 Top Ten list. Yes, the documentary underpinning is countered by a sly satiric thrust that does indeed leave the interpretation open-ended. I also like the style comparison to Haynes' SAFE and Chang Dong's SECRET SUNSHINE.

I'm thrilled to read such a resoundingly favorable response to LOURDES here at SCRIBBLES AND RAMBLINGS!

Sachin said...

Thanks so much for this wonderful compliment Sam. I only went looking for Lourdes after you had placed it at #1, so I owe you for this discovery. Also, this makes your compliment very special given your love for the film :)