Directed by Dietrich Brüggemann
Before accepting this piece, I was warned that Dietrich Brüggemann’s ‘Stations Of The Cross’ was heavy… my oh my were they right, this film hit me harder than an upper-cut from Frank Bruno.
‘Station’s Of The Cross’ follows 14 year old girl ‘Maria’ who lives with her parents and 3 siblings (the youngest of whom ‘Johannes’ is unable to talk for an inexplicable reason) in a small German town, in the present day. The family belong to the fictitious church ‘The Society of St Paul’ which is based on the real ‘Society of St. Pius X’. This is a fundamentalist society that believes in complete devotion and rejects the reforms made within the Catholic Church in 1960 which, in turn, leaves its followers with no space for personal growth or self-fulfilment. As she approaches her Confirmation, Maria comes to personally identify with and relate to saints; and with this, the firm acknowledgement and acceptance of her sacrificial destiny is born.
The topics discussed in ‘Stations Of The Cross’ – such as Religion, radical faith and indoctrination – are highly controversial and are incredibly difficult to ‘tastefully’ portray in traditional film. Brüggemann manages to avoid the inconvenience of having to pussyfoot around such issues and instead captivates the audience through his use of unconventional and artistic techniques.
The film itself consists of 14 long shots – one for each ‘station’/tableaux and is completely void of music – with the exception of Roxette’s “The Look”. Each tableau begins with the title used for the original artistic representation e.g. ‘Jesus carries his cross’. There is one moment in the film that is particularly memorable for me and that is when the title ‘Jesus is laid in the tomb’ appears and the shot that follows is that of a filthy digger just throwing earth on top of Maria’s grave. It seems to be the least graceful and poetic interpretation imaginable and so is absolutely perfect when representing the lack of importance that religion and martyrdom have to the masses in today’s society.
Given the nature of ‘Stations Of The Cross’, its focus on religious fundamentalism and the indoctrination of children within a seemingly dangerous cult and the use of abstract cinematography it would be all too easy for the viewer to distance themselves from the characters; however, I found myself feeling a great deal of sympathy for Maria. She has sought refuge in her religion because she feels no love from her mother and because she desperately lacks fulfilment in her day-to-day life.
Watching the rapid decline of Maria as she becomes engrossed in the idea that she is simply not allowed to participate in any activities that could lift her spirits, such as join a choir that performs “lots of Bach Chorales… but also some Soul and Gospel” because that music is filled with Satanic messages and Demonic rhythms, is both anger-inducing and deeply saddening. It is no wonder that Maria not only refused treatment when an infection left her incomprehensibly weak, but actively encouraged and eagerly awaited her own death so that she could be with God and, in so doing, provide a new lease of life for those “close to home”.
‘Stations Of The Cross’ will linger in the murky depths of your mind for a long time to come and I definitely recommend it to any of you who are looking for a Philosophical debate.