One year on from the release of The Exorcism of Emily Rose - the risible US exploitation horror which expropriated the real life story of German girl Anneliese Michel, comes German film Requiem, an infinitely more interesting look at the fateful details which led to the infamous trial of Michel’s parents and two priests.
Director Hans Christian Schmid and screenwriter Bernd Lang opt to change the names and some of the facts of Michel’s story so we are treated to the cautionary tale of Michaela Klingler (Sandra Hüller), the eldest daughter of devout Catholics Karl (Burghart Klaussner) and Marianne (Imogen Kogge). As the film begins, Michaela has just been accepted by Tübingen University in Baden-Württemberg, southwest of Stuttgart, to study pedagogy after a spell in a psychiatric hospital for what seems to be severe epilepsy. In her first year away, however, the combination of a bad relationship with her menopausal mother, ingrained Christian fundamentalism and the freedom of college conspire to bring on fits that are accompanied by the voices of several demons. After an intervention by an intrigued priest (Jens Harzer) and exorcisms involving her family priest (Walter Schmidinger), things take a tragic or saintly turn depending on which side of the faith abyss you straddle.
Director Schmid has made a moderately successful career out of detailing the mundane, locked off lives of youngsters and their emotionally remote parents in excellent character studies, Crazy (2000) and Distant Lights (2003), but Requiem is in a different league - it bears witness to emergence of a raw and singular talent. This is neat, economical storytelling, which uses documentary techniques to beg more questions than it ever has any intention of answering. Brilliantly shot by hand held camera in washed out browns and greens, Requiem is a complex, chilling, touching and opaque investigation into the fusty half-truths, hidden secrets and hysterical meltdown in this real life story. This is, in essence, less a horror than a poignant character study of one young lady caught between the devil and a very hard place. The performances here are all unsurpassable but stage actress Hüller in the lead is remarkable, it is a performance of such depth and intelligence and timing that it leaves one breathless. If, as expressionist painter Otto Dix noted, ‘All art is exorcism’, then Hüller is a veritable Velasquez.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 17 Nov.