out of Five
Running time: 100
Compelling, unusual and beautifully shot French drama with a terrific central performance from Sylvie Testud and a darkly funny script that really gets under your skin – this is one of the best films of the year.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Jessica Hausner, Lourdes stars Sylvie Testud as Christine, a young French woman suffering from multiple sclerosis, who comes to Lourdes as part of a coach party of pilgrims. During the endless rounds of visits to the baths and religious services, Christine is tended to by easily distracted Order of Malta volunteer Maria (Lea Seydoux), who has her eye on her colleague Kuno (Bruno Todeschini), who seems to have met Christine before.
However, when Christine suddenly sits up in bed and discovers that she can walk, everyone is thrown for a loop; doctors' reports are inconclusive and her fellow pilgrims are clearly envious. As Christine joins the more able-bodied members for a picnic, she grows closer to Kuno, much to Maria's annoyance, but is her recovery permanent?
Sylvie Testud is utterly compelling as Christine, even though she hardly speaks in the film. As the story unfolds, you find yourself rooting for her recovery to be permanent and as a result you're constantly on the lookout for anything that suggests otherwise – consequently, the extraordinary, dancefloor-based finale is unbearably tense.
There's also strong support from Lea Seydoux, Bruno Todeschini and from ex-Hal Hartley muse Elina Lowensohn as Cecile, an older, by-the-book volunteer who chastises Christine for queue-jumping. In addition, the film is beautifully shot, with an intriguing colour scheme that's mostly whites and blues with bursts of colour occasionally provided by objects such as Christine's distinctive red hat.
There are no easy answers in Jessica Hausner's drama and the script occasionally veers into dry black comedy territory that recalls the work of Aki Kaurismaki or Roy Andersson. The human reactions to Christine's apparent miracle are genuinely fascinating, ranging from envy to wonderment, while the jealousy between Maria and Christine over Kuno is both engaging and darkly funny.
Lourdes is a compelling, offbeat and original drama that's by turns suspenseful, thought-provoking, darkly funny and extremely moving. It's also unlike anything else you'll see this year and you're likely to find yourself thinking about it for days afterwards. Highly recommended.