Film review: Lourdes

Sylvie Testud as Christine

Sylvie Testud as Christine

From the opening scene to the final fade out, Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner's  'Lourdes'  is pure joy.  Though the film is located in Lourdes it is the  broader canvas of the human condition that is it's subject. We all of us push our particular wheelchair through the pilgrimage of life.

Immaculate camera work together with a disciplined script and non intrusive but effective music make for a rich experience.

The acting is top class all round but Sylvie Testud, as the main character Christine, a young girl with MS, with  Lea Seydoux,  Bruno Todeschini and Elina Lowensohn as fellow pilgrims,  all give brilliant  performances.

A stream of dualism (light-darkness, despair-hope, matter-spirit, body-soul,) run through the film but never swamp it. This is due to the use of vibrant deep symbolism by the director. The symbol of question mark pervades our pilgrimage. After all the Son of Mary was a great questioner: "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"  "Who do you say I am?"

The questions of the film are equally engrossing, What is God? Why suffering? Why Me? What is miracle? What does it mean to be healed?

The director never falls into the trap of giving pompous definitive answers such probings. Through all this, God seems to be ever absent and ever present.

There are what I would call delightful 'Jaques Tati' moments of humour. Like when the group poses for it's pilgrimage photo and the photographer ask for everyone to say 'Cheese'. Then there is a most luminous scene when Christine, after her alleged cure sits in a café enjoying her ice cream. Suddenly an ensemble of waiters appear and applaud her. She responds with a most enchanting smile.

But it is the final sequence that is the most hauntingly beautiful of the whole film. The farewell party. The ballroom dancing is bungling, out of rhythm, and even pathetic. But the participants are in various ways searching for love, romance and the fulfillment of hope.

The dance of life goes on. And Christine sits in her wheelchair looking on and reflecting "of what is past, or passing, or to come." (WB Yeats 'Sailing to Bzyantium')

In this enchanting, beautiful film, Jessica Hausner has produced a masterpiece. Don't miss it.

Michael Slater, who is one of the Master of Ceremonies from the Westminster Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes said: "This film might not represent exactly what we are used to. The French are a bit more formal in the way they care for the sick. But there are also some familiar sights - the outing to the mountains and the pilgrimage party at the end.  The real strength of the film is the beautiful direction and acting, and the  spirituality. The French priests in the film answer all the questions with real sensitivity and wisdom.

Fr John is a parish priest in Porstmouth Diocese. Lourdes goes on general release in the UK in March.

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