Stations Of The Cross

Art & Culture

Dietrich Bruggemann's film is a stunning example of formal integrity. A series of 14 scenes are filmed with an almost invariably fixed camera, allowing us to watch the unfolding story without the distraction of movement or editing. The central character is Maria, a teenage girl living within a strict catholic community, who has become convinced of the need for sacrifice as the defining feature of her young life.

The opening scene is compelling. An intense young priest sits at a table with a small group of young people who are in effect being indoctrinated by him into a certain view of religion – one which is extreme by the standards of modern Catholicism. But he is a charismatic man who exerts tremendous power over his susceptible disciples.

You would hope that Maria would have a softer and more tolerant home life, but her mother is a fiend in human shape, lacking warmth, compassion and generosity of spirit. There is only one reality, and that is hers. She is unrelenting, unforgiving, and unforgiveable. Maria is being slowly crushed under the wheels of these unrelenting adults, convinced of the right ness of their view, and in many ways, the film is an indictment of dogmatism. Yet at the same time, there is something else going on, and the film has echoes of Breaking The Waves, though nothing could be more different stylistically from von Trier's hand held edginess.

For those of you (including me) who have not been brought up in the Catholic faith, I should explain that the stations of the cross have nothing to do with King's Cross, but represent the 14 points on Christ's journey from being condemned to death to being laid in his tomb. Bruggemann's film consciously follows those stages in the life of Maria, from the opening scene in which she is (though it is not clear at the time) condemned to death. The tableau vivant nature of the film's composition deliberately echoes the way that the iconic nature of Catholicism sanctifies key elements of the life of Jesus and makes them a model for human behaviour, with inevitably destructive consequences.

And yet. And yet there is another element to the film which is not purely critical. There is, or there may be, redemptive quality to sacrifice, and that is what the film explores. It's a stunning piece of work, and you really ought to see it. Along with Christian Petzold's new film,  Phoenix, it shows the power and beauty of contemporary German cinema.


Phil Raby 

Front Row Films 

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