Friday, 26 February 2010

Jessica Hausner's Lourdes: revisited

My arts correspondent (aka Zero - she reads the Times2 before reading the news) has pointed me in the direction of an interview with Jessica Hausner that appeared in Thursday's Times: Lourdes, a pilgrim's dating progress. The occasion for the interview was the Glasgow Film Festival, at which the film was being shown.

This is my own review of the film, written when we saw the film at the London Film Festival. An interview with Jessica Hausner on the site of the Austrian Film Commission, on which I drew for my review, can be found here. The interview in the Times adds some interesting points to my previous posting about this film.

First of all, in the last paragraph, the Times interview discusses the reaction that Catholics might have to the film, suggesting that it took a lot of time and effort to persuade the Church to allow filming within the shrine itself. What will the reaction be to the films ambivalent and occasionally irreverent tone?
“I am curious. I think they might be fine with it. Catholic people know that it is not clear; you have to have doubts in the modern world. I talked to priests who have a lot of doubts — those were some of the most interesting talks. To believe means to look for the belief.” So you are not likely to be excommunicated then when they see it? “I don’t know if I can be, because I am not in the Church any more. Maybe I can be unbaptised.”
I, for one, am more than fine with it. I respect it as a genuine engagement by someone who does not share Catholic belief with the phenomenon of Lourdes (the Times interview reveals that Jessica Hausner lapsed from her strong Catholic faith at about 15 years of age). I found it interesting to read what this interview revealed of Jessica Hausner's own religious history.

Jessica Hausner's first reaction to the numbers of sick people that she saw in Lourdes is, in the context of contemporary attitudes to serious illness, very interesting. She initially found it all "awful ...humiliating, and a little bit obscene". One notable thing about a visit to Lourdes is precisely that sick people who might normally only be encountered in a hospital or nursing home are there, out and about, a part of the normal everyday life of the place. That this is in some way a shock to people is a sad comment on contemporary attitudes to sickness;  but to Jessica Hausner's credit, she seems to have overcome this and gone on to make a film which portrays different aspects of the phenomenon of sickness in a very carefully observed and sympathetic way.

Another aspect of Lourdes that is brought out in the Times interview is the social life of the helpers on the pilgrimages. Jessica describes the night life as "terrific. It's a parallel world to that of the people who are going to die and hope for a resurrection". The way in which Christine gains the attention of one of the male volunteers, pinching him from the girl who was her own allocated helper, forms what one might call a  narrative running through the later parts of the film.

Lourdes is due to be released on 26th March. Another blogger has rounded up remarks about the film.

1 comment:

Frank Knight said...

I read your original review (of last October) this week, and was stimulated by it to go and see the film.
I found it deeply moving, tender, beautifully acted, extremely well scripted and superbly edited and dubbed. The scenes with the disabled were particularly subtle: without the exaggeration or tendentiousness they'd normally get in a US or GB film. The 'coolness' of the surface did not disturb me at all; on the contrary, it seemed to make the drama and its tensions more powerful. (And in any case, such rhythmic stylization is a normal spatial device in Franco-German theatre and cinema.)
The audience in the small cinema was audibly caught up, particularly at the key moments of surprise. No one wanted to leave before the very final credit.
I found it a riveting study of the ambiguity of belief-scepticism, very much in the classic 20th century tradition of Mauriac, Bernanos, Claudel and (in England) Graham Greene.
I can't see that a 'Catholic' film about such a subject could more effectively illuminate what - from human sight - seems to be a wilfully random divine intervention. Or that it could more lovingly portray hope, envy, despair, and simple compassion.
My conclusion was that Jessica Hausner has - consciously or unconsciously - retained far more of her faith than she perhaps realizes or wants to publicly accept. Having been through a similar trajectory in the past, I feel great sympathy.