I'm curious about religious 'Miracle' sites & the French film Lourdes, (2009, English subtitles), gave me a chance to virtually & vicariously visit, as this is filmed entirely on site, in the midst of everyday events, inside the buildings & outside on the grounds. At first I was mesmerized by the gigantic Disneyland quality of the visuals, but was quickly drawn in to a more immediate curiosity about the thousands who visit here for very personal & diverse reasons. There are few spoken words in this film & they're not really needed. The actors create their characters with astounding believability & Lourdes itself is, of course, the central star.
"Austrian director Jessica Hausner, takes her cameras to the French Pyrenean pilgrimage site of Lourdes, a mysterious, French-language ensemble piece about the role of miracles in a modern day world. The focus is on a young French woman, Christine, (Sylvie Testud), one of a larger group of pilgrims being shepherded around by Lourdes 'Order of Malta' volunteers, a gang of helpers dressed like fascists moonlighting as members of the St John Ambulance.
The characters are scripted, but the place is real & part of the film’s thrill, especially when coupled with Hausner’s often inscrutable attitude towards the place, is to watch her drama unfolding in such a location, both creepy & magical, dour & uplifting. Hausner has been given a privilege filming here & she uses it wisely. Gradually the drama tightens around Christine who is frail, pretty & blonde; she’s also living with M.S & is unable to move her body below the neck. Christine’s religious beliefs are unclear,‘I prefer cultural trips,’ she says, but the pilgrimage is having a strange effect on her & soon she’s the focus of everyone’s attention. Are we witnessing a miracle? Is Christine manipulating the situation? Is she really ill? Are we cruel enough to even entertain that last thought?
The beauty of Hausner’s film is just when you think she’s going to take a sneering swipe at Lourdes, its tacky trinkets & deluded visitors, the film takes a much more inquiring turn. Hausner is more comfortable opening the debate than closing it & some things are clear.Her photography is exquisite, evoking religious icons & her mastery of directing a group of actors at this exceptional location allows the film to maintain a strong ensemble feel, while never losing sight of the mysterious story at its core. There’s also a delicious streak of black humor that runs through the film & stops it from becoming too pious or maudlin. The result is a provocative & surprising pleasure that may persuade even the most hardened rationalists to reconsider what religion means as a sanctity to those who have few other choices in life." Author: Film Critic, Dave Calhoun (editing by me.)