Film

‘Stations of the Cross’ Is an Austere Broadside Against Fundamentalism

by

The title suggests stiffness and ritual, and Dietrich Brüggemann’s austere and painful examination of fundamentalism’s effect on the mind and body of a young woman locks form and content into a single hairshirted whole: This is what it feels like to believe so strongly that you block out the world around you.

Still and observant, with fourteen single-shot scenes unfolding before a (mostly) stationary camera, the film matches its story of slender, eager Maria (Lea van Acken) — geared up to perform feats of sacrifice in order to nudge the heavens into blessing her autistic younger brother — to the narratives of Christ’s life painted in Middle Ages altar pieces.

The film offers a life in panels, a series of long moments in which viewers and Maria are stranded: Maria, her priest, and several other children, at a church basement table, discussing their duty to be Warriors for Christ, which in this day and age means telling friends that their secular music will damn them. Later, in a gym-class tableau, Maria has a go at spiritual warfare, asking her teacher to play a song that isn’t satanic — and winning the scorn of her classmates. Each scene is preceded by a black title card and an altar-panel title: “3. Jesus falls the first time.” That’s as subtle as nails through her savior’s hands, but the scenes themselves are stellar slow burns centered on a performance, from van Acken, of profound quiet and certainty.

We see why Maria believes she must give up niceties like eating or not wasting away, and Brüggemann makes clear in each moment how, within the perverse moral universe Maria has been reared, her disturbing choices make courageous sense. The ending’s a touch too cute, but the best scenes here stand as potent, empathetic, well-observed broadsides against fundamentalism.

Stations of the Cross

Directed by Dietrich Brüggemann

Opens July 10, Anthology Archives