Starring: Lea Van Acken, Franziska Weisz, Lucie Aron
14 year old Maria (Van Acken) has been brought up in a strict catholic family and has devoted her entire life to serving God. Wanting to emulate Jesus and become a saint, she intends to sacrifice herself so that her youngest brother is cured from a mysterious illness and in doing so her experiences replicate the 14 Stations of the Cross that Jesus did on his path to Golgotha.
Religion is most certainly a divisive subject, and the ultimate opinions one may have on Stations of the Cross may depend on their views on religion. However that is one of the wonderful aspects of Dietrich Brüggemann’s excellent drama; it never preaches or patronises the viewer but presents a very powerful story and provokes discussion and thought that produces a long lasting memory of what is certainly an extremely haunting film.
Taking place in 16 scenes that are all in one single take that represent each stage of Maria’s journey that replicates Jesus’s journey, it is a stylistic choice that could so easily feel contrived and gimmicky. However Brüggemann skilfully uses the technique to enhance the emotional power of the narrative. As each scene unfolds with the camera fixed on the character’s faces there is an authentic rawness produced by the film that only enhances our emotional engagement with Maria.
Just exactly how the viewer engages with Maria’s journey may again depend slightly on one’s views on religion; some will be frustrated and appalled by what happens to her, but Maria’s intentions are always pure, if perhaps arguably regarded as deluded by some of those around her. However no matter how naive or deluded the views Maria has, it is not her fault and it this that allows Stations of the Cross to open up debate and discussion on religion and its place in society today and whether it can be enlightening, or indeed repressive.
Though Maria is brought up in any extremely strict catholic family, Brüggemann skilfully makes sure that those who have directly influenced her ideologies are never just simply portrayed as villains of the piece. They have genuine believe in their words and actions and their love for Maria is never in question, but their reasoning is most certainly questioned by the narrative in a manner of the utmost respect and intelligence.
The destination of the narrative may be in some ways never in doubt, but in the case of Stations of the Cross it is more about the journey. This journey of the narrative’s protagonist is never anything less than deeply engaging, but also dealt with intelligence and respect for its subject matter to make for a deeply thought provoking and haunting drama.