Disenchanted, rational and appropriately satirical – with even a touch of subtle irony – Lourdes, by pointing the finger at a hypocritical and “respectable” society that lives only on illusions, shows us a very different reality from the one we imagine.
Is it a miracle?
Religion, it is known, has always had an important place in Jessica Hausner’s work. And so, in Lourdes – already presented in competition at the 66th Venice Film Festival and included, following the cancellation of the Diagonale 2020, during which the festival should have dedicated the Zur Person section to Hausner, within the programme Diagonale 2020 – The Unfinished – it is religion itself, or rather, the way it is experienced by the faithful, that is put under the spotlight. In addition, of course, to issues also recurring in Hausner’s cinema, such as the incommunicability and loneliness of the human being.
The Viennese director’s first feature film shot in French, Lourdes tells the story of Christine (played by Sylvie Testud), a girl suffering from plaque sclerosis who, due to her illness, has become tetraplegic. The young woman, along with many other pilgrims, travelled to Lourdes. There, inexplicably, she will start moving and walking again after visiting the Grotto. But will it be a real miracle?
Disenchanted, rational and appropriately satirical – with even a touch of subtle irony – Lourdes, by pointing the finger at a hypocritical and “respectable” society that lives only on illusions, shows us a very different reality from the one we imagine. And the most interesting thing of the film is precisely the characterisation of the protagonists, for an impeccable screenplay written by Hausner herself together with Géraldine Bajard, who would continue her collaboration with the Austrian director also in Little Joe. It is interesting to observe, in this regard, how envy and gossip on the part of the other pilgrims (and not only), as well as a constant, morbid desire for voyeurism and pity for the other sufferers on the part of some members of the group, arise in the wake of what would seem to be a miracle. All because of a real competition to see who has the most strong faith (and the competition to win the prize for best pilgrim of the year speaks for itself). Each of them, including the priests, seems more human than ever, but never as pious as one would expect to see in such a context. Just think of the protagonist herself who, at the film’s opening, confides to her nurse (played by a very young Léa Seydoux) that she only takes part in numerous religious pilgrimages because, otherwise, it would not be possible for her to leave home.
The ambiguity of the atmospheres created is emphasised by the well-balanced and impeccable direction of Jessica Hausner, who uses mainly static camera shots and clear, well-defined colours that stand out against almost monochrome settings, all in shades of ochre (and here another long-standing collaborator of the Viennese director, Martin Gschlacht, one of the most highly appreciated cinematographers in Austria, comes into play). And so the very environments depicted here seem cold, unfriendly and convey everything except a necessary sense of welcome that one would expect to experience in such locations.
Jessica Hausner does not (explicitly) aim to give precise answers in her Lourdes. And a deliberately (or, it would be better to say, seemingly) open ending leaves the audience free to interpret it. Yet at the same time, loud and clear comes to the audience Hausner’s own point of view. And it contrasts strongly with the song Felicità (Happiness) by Albano Carrisi, sung on stage during a pilgrimage party just before the end credits. What will the faithful remain of the whole experience?
Original title: Lourdes
Directed by: Jessica Hausner
Country/year: Austria, France, Germany / 2009
Running time: 99’
Genre: drama, satirical
Cast: Sylvie Testud, Léa Seydoux, Gilette Barbier, Gerhard Liebmann, Bruno Todeschini, Elina Löwensohn, Linde Prelog, Heidi Baratta, Hubert Kramar, Helga Illich, Walter Benn, Petra Morzé, Orsolya Toth, Katharina Flicker, Thomas Uhlir
Screenplay: Jessica Hausner, Géraldine Bajard
Cinematography: Martin Gschlacht
Produced by: Coop99 Filmproduktion, Essential Filmproduktion, Société Parisienne de Production, Thermidor Filmproduktion