Directed by: Dietrich Brüggemann
Starring: Lea van Acken, Franziska Weisz, Lucie Aron, Michael Kamp
When reading the synopsis for Stations of the Cross, I was afraid that the chosen format of 14 fixed-angle scenes, numbered and named as per the 14 Stations of the Cross, would effectively work out as a sort of harness. We’ve seen that many times before, when the format takes over and the content suffers. However, it becomes clear very early on that the format won’t hamper this particular film, which is a strong offering from director Dietrich Brüggemann.
The central character is 14-year-old Maria, but her uncompromising mother is also a key figure in the drama as it unfolds in 14 distinct scenes, the first of which shows a priest with a group of children, sitting around a table and talking about the essentials of what their true Catholic life will entail. They’re together in preparation for the sacrament of Confirmation, and from that moment on they’re expected to stand up for their faith, and to defend it against everything that deviates from the Ten Commandments and the Seven Sacraments.
A very clear explanation is given about the day-to-day practices, essentially resisting all temptations that are placed on a person’s path. Another topic is partaking in small sacrifices, like not eating a cookie, even when tempted because it seems so harmless. Other forbidden fruits are pop, jazz, soul and other such “modern” music styles, allegedly all based on rhythms invented by Satan.
Maria belongs to a Catholic family of hardliners, members of the Congregation of St Pius XII. The aforementioned opening scene makes it perfectly clear that Maria is prepared to take her faith seriously, by going through the 14 stations, just like Jesus did on his path to Golgatha. In the second chapter, where the family are walking through a park, she considers her coat and sweater as a luxury and takes them off in spite of the cold weather. She also refuses to smile when family pictures are taken. More such things happen, but she doesn’t explain herself. She succeeds in annoying her mother, and thus unwillingly destroys the happy family atmosphere.
When not revealing Maria’s relationship with her family, we see how she interacts at school, and the gym class scene serves as a perfect example of this. Maria withdraws when music is played, deeming it as one of the “Satan invented” categories. One of her classmates makes a joke out of it but others are more constructive, bringing in to play the notion of tolerance of other beliefs. This scene serves as solid proof that a still camera need not be an obstacle if the story is vivid and engaging.
Aided by strong and convincing performances from Lea van Acken as the innocent and deeply religious Maria, and Franziska Weisz as her fanatic mother, Stations of the Cross brings to light the importance of tolerance in a society where extremism is ever increasing and bigotry is rife. It’s a film that speaks to its audience with minimal camera movements, as the story unfolds with a finesse that’s rarely found in modern cinema.
Stations of the Cross is in cinemas 28 November