Tartan Video // 2009 // 99 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Rogers (Retired) // September 26th, 2011
This is not a religious film. This is a humanist film.
It can be hard for a film about religious faith and the miracle of life to transcend the pitfalls of subjectivity and become something universal. A film can be too fervent in its agenda to highlight the righteousness of certain religious tenets; to the point where you alienate more skeptical viewers. A film can also be too caustic in its attempt to attack the absurdity of human faith and religion. This can make a film feel like an unenjoyable vacuum. It's rare to find a film that can balance between these two poles; one that's seemingly grounded in reality and skeptical of the power of faith, while also maintaining a strong sense of spirituality and faith-based compassion.
Christine (Sylvie Testud, La Vie en Rose) has been in a wheelchair for most of her life. She sees the world through a prism of regret for a life she'll never have, with a longing to do the things she'll never be able to do. To come to terms with the crushing reality of her situation, Christine makes a journey to the hallowed religious site of Lourdes. It's said to be a place of miracles where people can go to be healed of their pains, as long as they are righteous enough and deemed worthy in the eyes of God. While Christine is not the most fervent in her belief in God and miracles, she regains the use of her limbs. Many deem it a miracle of the highest order, while some become hostile towards her for not being religious enough to be worthy of a miracle. While Christine is truly joyous for the first time in her life, even she questions how this came to be.
Lourdes is a film that sticks out in my mind as one of the rare and effective exceptions. The film deals with the concept of miracles and whether the rigid human definition of them undermines the inherent miraculousness of life itself. The film strongly balances the idea of a benevolent and all-seeing God with the reality of human suffering and tragedy, but never wants to alienate its audience by showing us a world of pain and hardships that's too nihilistic. Don't get me wrong, the experience can be very bleak at times, in part because of Jessica Hausner's (Hotel) Bazinian realist style of directing. But the film frames its bleakness with spiritual ponderings about the role of a god while also placing faith within a grand sense of humanity. It's an incredibly effective piece of filmmaking.
Hausner uses her camera as an unobtrusive cataloguer to the suffering of the human spirit under the heel of misplaced faith. Her mise-en-scene is largely bleak and lifeless, in order to help capture the frame of mind of our main character. Through simple yet effective camera placement, a lack of fluidity that mimics the paralysis of our character, and a basic editing style, Lourdes stands as a window into a real moment in time, instead of a narrative film with moral intentions. These choices are what makes the film so beautiful.
The performance of Sylvie Testud as Christine is also sublime. The actress imbues her character with a crushing sense of forlornness that is all there in her eyes. The character of Christine wants to place her faith in the hands of something greater than herself, but the reality of her situation is constantly bringing her back down. While she's an instrument to highlight the innate goodness of human compassion, she's also there to shine a light on the perceived absurdity of religious faith and rigidity. The actress never strays too far to one side to give the film objectivity. And to think such a delicate performance can be accomplished without the ability to move her body.
Lourdes' impact is felt long after the film ends. The intricate message Hausner is trying to get across helped synthesize my own beliefs and changed how I perceive the world around me; the mark of a truly great film.
To heighten an already stellar film, Lourdes' 1.85:1/1080p high def transfer is immaculate. For a film with such a bleak color palette, the vibrancy of color (especially reds and blues) is astounding. Lines are sharp and defined, with the slightest bit of grain structure hiding underneath; a welcome sight for films that have been shot in digital. The only downside is that the black levels are incredibly inconsistent. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is about as good as you can expect for such a quiet film. The dialogue itself is razor sharp, there's relatively little in the way of ambient noise, and the score is always flittering around the edges instead of being a focal point. An artistic choice, and a beautiful one at that.
Unfortunately, the bonus features are more than a little disappointing. The only substance is an interview with director Jessica Hausner, briefly explaining her vision, motives, and what it was like to tackle a project such as this. It's interesting but short and makes one wish for a full-length commentary. All that remains are two trailers for the film.
It's rare for me to be truly touched or moved by a film, so when that type of film comes along, I embrace it with all my might. Lourdes is one of those films. It's made greater by the fact that it never floats off into sentimentality, choosing instead to remain grounded in the harsh nature of reality and human existence. This Blu-ray is the best way to experience it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated