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A child walks her Via Dolorosa

05 December 2014

Stephen Brown sees a film about religion taken to an extreme

"JESUS will be in agony until the end of the world and we cannot sleep during this time." Pascal may have said this, but it could just as easily be Father Weber (Florian Stetter) in Stations of the Cross (Cert. 15). In this contemporary tale, the priest instructs his confirmation class of young teenagers. We soon learn that this is a Roman Catholic sect that abhors the reforms ushered in by the Second Vatican Council.

Each time we say no to pretty dresses, dance music, or cake, we make room for Jesus, Weber says. Self-sacrifice can be God's means of grace, not just for ourselves, but others. One of the candidates, Maria (Lea van Acken, above, right), takes all this to heart.

At home, she stops eating food and avoids warmth as a means of healing her brother Johannes, who, at the age of four, has yet to speak. Maria's family don't help, putting further strains on the girl by preventing her joining a choir. At school, Maria's religious scruples distance her from schoolmates. Lack of nourishment leads to her falling under the weight of the cross she is bearing for others. The scenario rapidly becomes a Via Dolorosa.

Dietrich Brüggemann has directed a film full of pathos but also ironic humour: not iconoclastic about religion itself, but offering a critique of some of its extremes. The film is framed in 14 episodes and mainly confined to a single shot from a deep-focus point of view. Each chapter has the title of one of the stages of the journey to Calvary. As the camera rarely moves, we're reminded of the kind of contemplation worshippers give to every tableau as they move in a church from Station to Station.

I was reminded of Corpo Celeste (Arts, 6 April 2012), about a similarly aged girl perplexed by faith as she approached confirmation. Stations of the Cross, however, places viewers in an impossible double bind. Without spoiling it for would-be viewers, I can say that the film's conclusion plays illogical havoc with the value of sacrifice and/or the efficacy of the Blessed Sacrament.

Perhaps the overall idea is to expose secularism in terms of what its director and his sister Anna, who wrote the screenplay, regard as "swimming in a sea of meaningless actionism". But is the religion on hand in this film an acceptable alternative? I don't think so; nor do the Brüggemanns. Nostalgia and yearning for more faith-filled times haunt the film, but not on Weber's terms, nor, perhaps, even those of mainstream Christianity.

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