Stations of the Cross
Directed by Dietrich Brüggemann
Maria finds herself caught between two worlds. At school this 14-year-old girl has all the typical teenage interests, but when she’s at home with her family she follows the teachings of the Society of St. Pius XII and their traditionalist interpretation of Catholicism. Everything that Maria thinks and does must be examined before God. And since the Lord is a strict shepherd, she lives in constant fear of committing some misconduct...
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★★★½ review by Dirk van Eck on Letterboxd
Sixth watch of March around the World: Germany. Fourteen takes, each corresponding to one of the fourteen Stations of the Cross. No fancy film techniques or editing, just stark shots with minimal zoom-ins, zoom-outs and camera movements. An ambitious project. Maria is a young girl, raised in an extremely conservative Catholic household, who’s preparing for her confirmation, which leads her to believe that sacrificing her own life is what will bring her righteously to God. The scenes are almost exclusively brilliant with exceptional compliments for the prologue, which features Pater Weber tutoring a circle of children the traditionalist view of his church, undoubtedly brainwashing them in the process. A second outstanding element is the relationship between Maria and her mother - played by Lea van Acken and Franziska Weisz respectively. The former is a true saint, whilst the latter is an indoctrinating tyrant. Such an original, stirring and yet satisfying movie.
★★★★½ review by Florin Stan on Letterboxd
Consisting of 14 long takes, most of them shot from a fixed, unchanging angle, this German film directed by Dietrich Brüggemann tells the story of a teenage girl named Maria who lives in a family of fundamental Catholic principles. Each scene echoes one of the stations of the cross at the time of Jesus' crucifixion, framing Maria's upbringing from a unique perspective that provides insight into notions of faith, its role in everyday life and its impact on a young mind. With its cold tone, unflinching stillness and self-imposed distance, Stations of the Cross draws a thin line between spiritual profoundness and false sense of depth, between clarity and vagueness, religious teachings and indoctrination, parental care and parental abuse.
The movie's strength lies in the decision to focus on a young child's attempt to fulfill her purpose and in the decision to present the characters' actions as misguided instead of purposefully hurtful. By doing this, the movie isn't as interested in condemning the fanaticism that might be automatically linked with a strict religious lifestyle (although it kind of does that too), but it's more preoccupied with decrying the lack of action, the lack of communication, the very passivity it so carefully employs as an artistic choice. It decries the consequences the ambiguity seemingly surrounding most religious concepts might entail, or better said, a child's capacity to grasp such abstract notions. What you don't know won't hurt you is the saying, but what you don't understand can.
The mother character is portrayed a tad too over the top, although not outside the realm of possibility, or even likelihood. Towards the end of the film what some would call a miracle happens which, besides being predictable, can be viewed as either a maddening or brilliant decision. Aside these small complaints, Stations of the Cross is a remarkable and challenging film, one that tells its story in a way that provokes both sadness and a sense of powerlessness.
★★★★½ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd
Fourteen stages of Jesus carrying the cross to his crucifixion are depicted in Christianity and fourteen perfectly paced long takes directed by Dietrich Bruggeman, tell the story of a young girl indoctrinated into a fundamentalist system. Stations Of The Cross is a wonderful example of European cinema at its finest, articulate, restrained and quietly powerful.
Each chapter takes the title of Jesus' apparent slow walk toward Golgatha. Opening with 'Jesus is condemned to death' Maria sits amongst a group of teenagers listening to their parish priest readying them for confirmation. The strict moralistic tone becomes immediately clear that these kids are raised in a far more orthodox manner than many Christians. Maria ponders how she can sacrifice her own life for God, given how eager she is remain sin free.
Lea van Acken, who in her debut plays the aforementioned girl, is nothing short of sensational in her role. This young skinny girl appears to grow paler by the day, trapped between the hormonal instincts of growing up and the restrictive nature of her environment. Each segment gradually builds the picture of her home life and the painfully high expectations she enforces upon herself because of her religious upbringing. Franziska Weisz, who plays her bullying mother, is equally as impressive and the scenes featuring the pair are absolute dynamite.
Each take lasts for around ten minutes detailed with a wonderful script and all-round pitch perfect performances. Bruggeman's target isn't really the religion itself but the people who abuse the power it holds over the young and the vulnerable. With the rise of fundamentalism in the Middle East and on the extreme right in the West, the director uses the framework of religion to examine the dangers of intolerance and singular ideologies that denounce the existence of others.
The camera remains fixed throughout the majority of the scenes and then only moving slightly in a few. Presenting the film within fourteen sections may appear to be a cheap trick from the outside but by the end the raw power of the story reveals this to be far more than just a formal exercise. The film won the award for best script at the Berlin Film Festival and needs to be seen by those who like their cinema raw and immersive.
★★★★ review by The Essential on Letterboxd
Indoctrination lies at the heart of Stations of the Cross, the bold, new film from German filmmaker Dietrich Brüggemann. Simplistic in form, the film utilises fourteen breathtaking, unbroken shots that unfold within the boundaries of the fourteen Stations of the Cross, traditionally a central, expressive narrative of Catholicism in which Christ is nailed to the cross which is here re-positioned into the slow unravelling of a young teenage mind caught at an involuntary crossroads.
★★★★ review by Vincent Lao on Letterboxd
Dietrich Brüggemann’s clever, simple, yet thought-provoking German drama that examines the burden of Catholic guilt, extreme religious fundamentalism, and bad parenting is extremely scathing and disturbing as it is moving and powerful. This simple drama follows a conservative young Catholic woman whose extreme religious ideals drove her to do such disturbing, tragic acts of self-martyrdom.
Brüggemann achieved such suffocating, yet calm atmosphere through his episodic-like narrative.The film is cleverly inspired from the real Stations of the Cross, and with its 14 one-long take segments, the film expose the ills of how people clearly abuses religion and put such burden to these innocent, young individuals. And at the core is Maria (parallels Jesus Christ) who is the clear victim of being forced to comply such rules and commit such high expectations from her religious upbringing. Which brings to the question “at what point do you say enough is enough?”
The acting is exceptional across the board. Young actress Lea van Acken gives a phenomenal turn as the central protagonist Maria. Van Acken’s screen naturalism and sincerity are remarkable to witness. While Franziska Weisz is brutally masterful in her infuriating, yet superb portrayal of Maria’s mother. However, the greatness of the film is due to its solid screenplay that cuts through like a knife. No wonder it won the Best Script at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival. It’s smooth and explosive, but not veering into such exploitative territory in dealing with its serious themes and characters. Overall, it’s a pretty solid picture. This film definitely satisfied my craving for great Euro art-house flicks. Recommended!
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