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Pat Answer to a Prayer

MOVIE REVIEW
Lourdes (2009)

LOURDES3
Palisades Tartan

History has proven Catholicism to be the most cinematic of the Christian denominations. Drawing on a wealth of ornate iconography and millennia of artistic traditions/ceremonial pomp and circumstance, its practice incorporates sights, symbols and colors of remarkable visual beauty. There was, therefore, arresting potential for Jessica Hausner’s very Catholic new film “Lourdes.”

It depicts a mass pilgrimage to the mystical town in the south of France, said to be the site of repeated apparitions of the Virgin Mary. It centers on a busload of patients and workers from a Catholic hospital, who arrive in search of various forms of healing. Principal among them is Christine (Sylvie Testud), a nearly-mute paraplegic, content to look on at the righteous blur that surrounds her.

Dramatically, the work exudes a stillness of being, with characters poised in stoic repose. Ms. Hausner’s observational camera — perched largely at medium distance — follows her ensemble as it congregates in cafeterias and chapels, frequent religious souvenir shops and occupy sterile bedrooms. The picture values the process of thought, espousing a strong belief in the inherent drama of the feelings conveyed in subtle movement and overarching stillness.

That admirable conceit — the underhanded way with which Ms. Hausner questions the nature and definition of healing itself — does not, however, suffice for the fact that Christine’s passivity inspires overwhelming disinterest. Nor does it compensate for the long stretches of time wherein the movie’s almost too quiet, so restrained and reliant on its carefully calibrated tableaux that one longs for the tiniest thread of melodrama.

At the heart of “Lourdes” lies a sly, offbeat condemnation of the ridiculous religious commoditizing and pompous moralizing of the authority figures here. It’s best communicated in the film’s powerful last shot, in which the protagonist takes proactive action for the very first time. Sadly, the journey to get there feels as long and arduous for the viewer as the main character.

LOURDES

Opened on Feb. 17 in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Jessica Hausner; director of photography, Martin Gschlacht; edited by Karina Ressler; production designer, Katharina Wöppermann; produced by Mr. Gschlacht, Philippe Bober and Susanne Marian; released by Palisades Tartan. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Sylvie Testud (Christine), Bruno Todeschini (Kuno), Elina Löwensohn (Cécile), Gerhard Liebmann (Pater Nigl), Gilette Barbier (Mme. Hartl), Hubsi Kramer (Herr Olivetti) and Léa Seydoux (Maria).

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