Since 2005, a number of European films have emerged examining the legacy of Christianity in Western Europe, and the ways in which men, women and children struggle to negotiate questions of religion and secularity, the personal and the institutional, faith and doubt. This article looks at two of these films—Jessica Hausner’s Lourdes
(2009) and Dietrich Brüggemann’s Stations of the Cross
(2014)—in relation to questions of religious experience, the female body and film style. In both films the battle between these opposing categories is played out on the bodies of women—a paraplegic MS sufferer in Lourdes, an anorexic teen in Stations of the Cross
—and both the films end ambiguously with what may, or may not, be a miracle of sorts: a confirmation of faith or a rebuttal. I wish to connect this ambiguity to the use of a very distinctive mise-en-scene in both films, which relies on a heavily restricted colour palate; highly formalised, painterly-compositions; and crucially what David Bordwell has termed “planimetric photography”: a shooting style that eschews depth or diagonals, refusing the spectator entrance into the image and holding her instead at a deliberate distance. My argument, in short, is that these stylistic choices—while gesturing towards a tradition of Christian art—also refuse the spectator either visual or haptic knowledge of the events that the characters undergo. Rather, they are suggestive of the fundamental unknowability that characterises religious experience, leaving us alone, outside of the action, forced to negotiate ourselves between belief and doubt.
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