Recomendaciones del BAFICI: "Lourdes", de Jessica Hausner

LOURDES, de Jessica Hausner (9) Lo que logra hacer la directora austríaca de “Hotel”, en ésta, su tercera película, es poco menos que milagroso. Y no sólo porque tenga en su centro un tema religioso. Hausner centra su película en un tour/peregrinación que hacen religiosos y dolientes a Lourdes, a visitar el santuario de la virgen y rezar por su salud. La protagonista es Sylvie Testud, que encarna a una mujer que tiene el cuerpo completamente paralizado del cuello para abajo. Y junto a ella se mueve un curioso grupo que integran otras personas con dificultades de salud, además de religiosos y un grupo encargado del control y la seguridad. La película, filmada en un hiperrealista video digital que la hace ver, casi, como un programa de televisión documental sobre la peregrinación religiosa, cuenta una serie de días que dura el tour, días en los que la protagonista podrá hacer el tour supuestamente curativo, esperando un milagro, mientras a su alrededor el espectador puede darse cuenta de que el sistema no funciona del todo bien: los de seguridad quieren divertirse con las jóvenes que cuidan a los enfermos, ellas parecen más interesadas en pasarlo bien que en hacer su trabajo, y por todos lados se observa el "negocio de la religión". Pero esto, en la mirada de Hausner, no se contradice con la devoción y el fervor religioso que los pacientes tienen, y la experiencia religiosa está –desde ese punto de vista— tratada con mucho respeto, lo que seguramente explica porqué les permitieron filmar en los lugares reales. Hay ironía y bastante humor en ciertos momentos, pero siempre a expensas de la parafernalia que rodea a la peregrinación: la venta de productos, los tours, la música, ciertos personajes que acompañan la delegación (uno con bigotitos que cuenta chistes sobre curas es genial). Algo sucederá, promediando la película, que no conviene adelantar acá, pero que llevará al extremo y hará aún más evidente esa fina línea que sabe manejar Hausner para que la película no se transforme en una burla pedante y condescendiente sobre la religión ni tampoco en un folleto promocional de la visita a Lourdes, aunque más de uno podrá irse con esa idea. Cuando el filme concluye con un cantante italiano interpretando el viejo clásico “Felicitá”, “Lourdes” consigue dejarnos con una sonrisa y con una lágrima al mismo tiempo. Afortunados de haber presenciado un milagro… cinematográfico.

The Guardian
By Peter Bradshaw

Jessica Hausner's drama is subtle, mysterious and brilliant, says Peter Bradshaw

"Leaving the miraculous out of life is like leaving out the lavatory or dreams or breakfast," wrote Graham Greene, but the miraculous certainly does tend to get left out of films, unless they are specifically about the life of Christ. So a contemporary movie set in Lourdes, among the believers and wheelchair-users who have come to that famous shrine in the hope of a cure, must inevitably trigger a series of expectations in the viewer: expectations of irony and disillusion, of some grotesque reversal, or maybe, in place of a cure, some violently satirical Dr Strangelove moment, a nauseous anti-miracle, like the ex-Nazi's euphoric scream of "I can walk!" in Kubrick's film at the instant when the earth's nuclear destruction is guaranteed.

Furthermore, this movie is by Jessica Hausner, the Austrian director whose name is habitually mentioned in the same breath as Ulrich Seidl and Michael Haneke: film-makers who are capable of exposing the refrigerated cruelty beneath the surface of gemütlich European middle-class life. But Hausner manages and controls our expectations in this superbly subtle, mysterious and brilliantly composed film. It concerns what seems to be a genuine miraculous event, after which Hausner adroitly, and repeatedly, allows us to suspect that something counter-balancingly awful is about to happen, bringing us close to the brink of apparent catastrophe, and then allowing the danger to recede, while at the same time letting us suspect that disaster has in fact in some way happened – or perhaps something entirely the opposite of disastrous. Either way, as the action of this outstanding movie proceeds, you get the eerie feeling that everything on screen has been invisibly deluged with something very important.

Sylvie Testud gives a tremendous performance as Christine, a young Frenchwoman who has multiple sclerosis and has come to Lourdes as part of a religious tour group organised by the Order of Malta. Her arms and legs are immobile and her hands are clenched fists. At Lourdes, she takes an alert and intelligent interest in the proceedings, though without seeming fervent or desperate, and relates easily to her fellow pilgrims, including a woman with a disabled child, and an older woman Madame Hartl (Gilette Barbier), who takes it upon herself to be Christine's companion and roommate. Elina Löwensohn plays the senior nurse and tour group leader, something of a martinet who disapproves of any impious or egotistical behaviour. There is also Kuno, played by Bruno Todeschini, a handsome male volunteer who in the most refined, discreet and gentlemanly way, admires Christine's quiet beauty and courage.

Like everyone else, Christine absorbs the ruling ethos at Lourdes that spiritual healing is the important thing – a credo that allows everyone to leave without thinking that they have had a wasted or disappointing journey. Also, everyone is quite aware of the routine phenomenon of the "phantom" miracle. Some, in the heat of the moment, do indeed rise from their wheelchairs, only to sink back, hours or days later, when the euphoria has worn off. Everywhere, there is a patiently rational and metaphorical approach to the miraculous. And yet …

As events unfold, it seems possible that some sort of strange quantum of health and sickness is in force. If physical strength should suddenly desert one of the party, it might migrate to someone else – but if divine grace should be visited on someone via these mysterious means, then this might cause ripples of dissatisfaction and resentment among the rest of the group, and the status quo ante could yet be reasserted. A cool, elegant and almost imperceptibly black-comic detachment is created with Hausner's group compositions, in which the viewer must always stay attentive for something vital happening in the middle distance.

The last film featuring a scene in Lourdes was Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, in which Mathieu Amalric's disabled magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby remembers a dirty weekend spent in that bizarrely chosen location. Jean-Pierre Cassel was cast in the significant dual role of priest and vendor of cheap commercial trinkets. All the worldly, knowing irony of that scene – all the i-dotting and t-crossing – is utterly absent from Jessica Hausner's grippingly enigmatic work, shot on location in Lourdes itself: the mass scene appears to have been filmed with the actors "embedded" among genuine pilgrims. The audience is entitled to wonder if some of the ambiguity and restraint of Hausner's film was contrived to get official permission for these sequences, but even that possibility has its own subversive fascination.

Towards its end, I found myself thinking of Dreyer's Day of Wrath, in which Anna's vocation for evil appears to pass from the metaphorical to the real: a sense that witchcraft is not merely a parable for disempowerment, but something that she is literally capable of doing. It is a moment of astonishment that punctures the rational fabric of the film – there is no clearly comparable sense here, but certainly a batsqueak of anxiety that the miraculous might be real, and that it is therefore just as alarming, unsettling and threatening – and perhaps, also, just as absurd and banal – as everything else in the real world. Some viewers may find themselves disconcerted or even exasperated by the film's final moments, but I found in them a final flourish of Hausner's sheer, exhilarating technique and intelligence, like that of a superb musician. It is her best film yet.

Rating: 4/5

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