While Hollywood movies more often than not go for the audience jugular with jolts of violence and cookie cutter moronic mayhem, and movies of the independent variety tend to be stuck in a more self-indulgent focus on assorted filmmaker navels, on occasion a film comes along that quite simply enchants and astonishes with its collection of small, delicate moments that comprise that entity called existence. Such is the stunning cinematic glow of the luminous existential elegy, Lourdes.
Written and directed by German filmmaker Jessica Hausner (Lovely Rita, Hotel), Lourdes lyrically enters the lives of random physically or psychologically damaged pilgrims who have journeyed to this famed French Catholic religious mecca, in search of spiritual healing. Some who are severely crippled yearn to be physically whole again, through an act of divine intervention, while one wheelchair confined man just prays for a new girlfriend, to replace the one who abandoned him after his body was broken.
Then there are the charity workers assisting the disabled in being fed, bathed, dressed and wheeled around the vast, alpine mystically imposing grounds. They at first appear to be nuns, with similar attire, but eventually reveal themselves as women with their own very personal reasons for volunteering for this often taxing and stressful assignment. Or as one quite youthful, glamorous and flirtatious worker remarks, she’s ironically there to find meaning among those who have none, in her less than satisfying life, or at least experience something more fulfilling than skiing.
Among the many desperate hopefuls is Christine (Sylvie Testud), a quietly introspective young woman whose body is nearly completely ravaged by a degenerative disease, save for her mind and speech. Christine stands out among the others, as someone who isn’t religious herself, but craves a miracle to reverse her disease, and a life ‘passing me by’ that feels utterly useless and without purpose.
Lourdes is uncommonly crafted as to transcend any spectator religious denomination, believer or nonbeliever, as the film washes over you, immersing the audience in a spectacle that is alternately transcendent, transformative and strange. Even as the advancing hordes of wheelchairs, motorized and otherwise, to the tune of sacramental music, religious souvenir stands, rocks proclaimed for divine kissing, the ultimate party prize for Best Pilgrim, and fretting doctors considering the merits of potential miracles versus medical remissions, disorient and lace the proceedings with a weirdly dark tone. But always profoundly empathetic, even when at its most dubious, while weighing religious passion, mortality, heartbreak, hope, desperation and devastation, all part of that both euphoric and absurd experience comprising the human condition.
Lourdes will have its US theatrical premiere at the Film Forum in NYC beginning February 17th. More information is online at: Filmforum.org.
A Palisades Tartan Release