Austrian writer/director Jessica Hausner’s debut feature takes a thoroughly anti-mystical approach to the phenomenon of miracles. The action centres on a pilgrimage made by a group of invalids to the eponymous French city during which a young woman named Christine (notably the least religious member of the group) experiences a miracle. Hausner’s cinematography is almost anthropological in its unpartisan, observatory style: the light here is not one of transcendence or revelation, but of humdrum modernity and everyday existence.
Above all, this is a film about the very mystery of religious faith because Hausner shows her audience everything and nothing; we may see every rite and ceremony, but the actual miracle takes place in an ellipsis. Is this divine intervention we witness or a mere coincidence? Why is this particular person ‘chosen’ and not another? The fact that the director never definitively answers these questions is a testament to the film’s complexity. Hausner is also an astute observer of the fickleness of human nature: people who were sympathetic to Christine before her ‘miraculous cure’ turn hostile, while a young man whom she takes a fancy to does not notice her until she is the object of everyone’s fascination.
Sylvie Testud and Lea Seydoux both give outstanding performances as the young invalid and her ‘helper’ respectively. Ultimately though it is the disquieting and hermetic atmosphere that Hausner so carefully crafts that one is left with. Hausner is definitely a talent to watch.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh and selected release from Fri 26 Mar.