Jessica Hausner, an Austrian filmmaker, makes really interesting movies that are subtle, restrained, and wickedly funny. Here she creates a quietly subversive film that takes the loony spectacle of processions of wheelchairs (by the hundreds) at Lourdes and mines it for the human agony, hope, and pettiness that under gird the whole thing. That she got permission to film the actual processions is impressive in itself.
Christine (Sylvie Testud) has come to Lourdes, as she goes on other pilgrimages funded by the church, just to get out of the house. Hausner never comes out with it, but Christine is not coming off as a believer here. Still, she allows those around her to care for her, feed her, help her into bed, and hold their own beliefs about the power of miracles. Special attention must be paid to Frau Hartl (Gilette Barbier) whose enigmatic presence hovering behind Christine’s wheelchair is all but ignored by everyone in the film; even to some extent by Christine.
Hausner’s light touch throughout slyly undermines the miracle that does occur. More than one, in fact. But there is always the sense that something Big and Bad is slowly closing in. It is to her credit that she masterfully keeps viewers guessing right down to fade to black, roll credits. What Christine and Frau Hartl convey silently through their facial expressions in the closing minutes of the film is astonishing. This magical, smart, and skillfully questioning movie means more Jessica Hausner films are in the queue.