Stations of the Cross (Kreuzweg)
Deliberate and provocative drama exploring religious extremism and value of faith
This deliberate, meaty, provocative drama brilliantly uses the structure and form of religious art to deconstruct the damaging effects of religious indoctrination. Through 14 sections, each consisting of just one take, shot from a fixed camera position (with two significant exceptions), director Dietrich Brüggemann charts several significant days in the life of Maria, a teenage member of the Priestly Society of St. Paul, a strict Vatican II-denying branch of Catholicism. Each section takes the title of one of the Stations of the Cross – the 14 markers of Jesus’ Passion as defined by Catholic tradition – making Maria an explicit parallel to Christ; a parallel that becomes more poignant and devastating as the film develops. Yet while heavily critiquing the destructive power of heavy-handed religious structures, the film also asks searching questions about the value of Christian faith, and the potentially miraculous power of sacrifice.
Brüggemann exploits the potential of these fixed frames in a way that recalls Michael Haneke’s similarly meticulous film The White Ribbon: with often more than one detail calling attention to itself, we are forced to choose where to look and what to concentrate on. Brüggemann arranges characters in distinct positions akin to religious frescos – around a dinner table, a classroom, a hospital bed – and the relative stillness of each scene invites contemplation of faces and small movements. But while the scenes are evidently precisely choreographed, they also feel entirely naturalistic, like we are simply observing life.
This is partly down to the writing, by Bruggemann and his sister Anna, who also appears in the film. The script is pin-sharp, the dialogue crafted to subtly nudge questions about Maria’s worldview and how it has been shaped to the surface. But the success of the film is equally due to the performances, and particularly Lea van Acken, absolutely stunning in her screen debut as Maria. Her face is a gift to Bruggemann, pale and troubled like a classically painted martyr, conveying a genuine spiritual burden. The tensions that the film wrestles with are written on that face.
Limited release from Fri 28 Nov.