#9 of 2010: Lourdes
The withholding of judgment persists across Lourdes, which is comic, haunting, sweet, pious, unsettling, agnostic, and wholly deadpan at various moments. The scene structures, story arc, and style are so unusual that they ironically emit a strong sense of directorial point of view even as they inventively resist any sense of pinpointable editorial intervention. Our focal character, played by the charming, heroically opaque Sylvie Testud, is a young, wheelchair-bound woman who, early on, comments on the plastic, "touristy" aspects of this trip to Lourdes, where the minuscule possibility of a miracle is sold like a visit to Epcot Center, a Carnival Cruise, a steady engine for gift-shop apparel: I Prayed To Be Able To Walk, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt. But Testud's Christine makes this comment gently, in docile appreciation of the chance to get out, and the framing of spaces as well as ensuing events conspire to imply that something miraculous is happening, almost happens, or at least potentially could happen to Christine while at Lourdes. And why Christine? Löwensohn's chaperone, whether outraged at her unrewarded devotion or guilty about a private waver in her faith, seems incensed that Christine, not she, is the object of divine contact. The indolent, boy-crazy escort played by Léa Seydoux and the more intensely afflicted visitor played by Orsolya Tóth alternately stress the wry vulgarity and the humbling stakes of this place, this spell, whether of time or of magic.
Hausner, working in brilliantly cool cahoots with up-and-coming cinematographer Martin Gschlacht, keeps finding new locations, angles, and movements for her camera that simultaneously imply the very apex of capitalist banalization and the lurking potential of Spirit, of something ineffable. Embracing neither belief nor renunciation, Lourdes produces astonishing, dispassionate fusions of the two and an incredible range of gradations between them. What does it mean, either as the disabled pilgrim or the chaperoning nun, to visit Lourdes and imagine, much less expect, a touch from God's finger? What does it mean to come to Lourdes and not entertain that possibility? Is it holy or ridiculous, a joke or Very Much The Point, that the Spirit insinuates itself not in objects or intervals of sublime ecstasy but on drab day-trips, in restless queues, between the trapezoidal cafeteria trays? What finally happens in Lourdes and the questions or answers that the movie thereby prompts are generously, uncynically open to interpretation. But this is not a foggy, uncommitted exercise in run-of-the-mill ambiguity, nor does it turn on a brazen sensationalizing of body, society, and spirituality in the manner of Breaking the Waves. The exquisite, oblique manipulation of images, sounds, rhythms, and performance by which Lourdes evolves from scene to scene and by which it arrives at its finale offer its own grounds for an ardent belief in cinemaif not as a higher power then at least as a profound one.