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STATIONS OF THE CROSS – Review

November 27, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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Stations of the Cross is the impactful if somewhat rigid story of Maria (Lea Van Acken), a young girl struggling to come to terms with the complexities of her religion and the world around her. The film is made up of fourteen parts each introduced as one of Jesus´ Stations of the Cross. It starts off ominously with the first chapter entitled “Jesus is condemned to death”, leading to a scene in a room with Maria partaking in a class with Father Weber (Florian Stetter) to prepare for Holy Communion.

The children accept that they are warriors of God and that they must fight the evil that lives inside and around them. Things get a little darker when Maria stays behind to ask the father how a child free of sin can become gravely ill and whether she could sacrifice more than just chocolate and pop music to save him.

The following chapters proceed to give us glimpses into Maria´s strained existence. There is her family life which is dominated by her tyrannical mother (Franziska Weisz) who provides the framework to Maria´s obsessions. Weisz is excellent as a woman far more interested in obedience than love, self-righteously berating her daughter at any opportunity.

Maria takes comfort in her four year old mute brother (the child in need of saving) and French au-pair Bernadette (Lucie Aron). School and social interaction is just as difficult with bullying commonplace save for a not-Christian-enough-boy called Christian (Moritz Knapp) who tries to get close to Maria. Chapter by chapter we see the young protagonist slowly unravel, becoming more withdrawn and ill with each internal conflict.

German director Dietrich Brüggemann has crafted a fine film that challenges the application of religion in modern society. You get the sense that Maria has been indoctrinated to believe she is in control of her beliefs. People around her like Bernadette, a doctor and her persistent friend try to convince her that perfection is neither necessary nor possible but Maria has been taught to believe that they are of a weaker faith unable to see the unforgivable sins they are committing.

The film expertly highlights the downfall of extremist religions and as an atheist it has only further cemented my stance on religion but I can imagine it being slightly harder to chew for those more religiously inclined. Just like the battle-axe mother, Brüggemann is forcing the idea that religion doesn´t have a place in the modern world.

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Shooting Stations of the Cross in fixed-angle long shots was a genius turn by Brüggemann and by drawing the audience into all the awkward silences and torrents of abuse he has created an uncomfortable atmosphere for the viewer. As extras fly around in the background Maria remains stagnant only contributing to the feeling that she is living in a very different world to those around her. The casting of Lea Van Acken as Maria is another triumph for the movie. Her stoic innocence makes her easy to connect with but her warped view on right and wrong makes her equally enigmatic.

Winner of the Silver Bear for best screenplay at this year’s Berlinale and the Student Jury Prize at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Stations of the Cross is an absorbing movie which gives the audience food for thought. Just make sure you grab those moments before Brüggemann tells you what to believe!

Stations Of The Cross is released in UK cinemas on November 28th

Sean Mackenney