Sunday, 24 October 2010

Lourdes (2009)

MS sufferer Christine is on a pilgrimage to Lourdes along with other sick folk and the pious. Miracles can happen...

This film is an interesting take on the power of faith, testing of religious (and medical?) skepticism and possibly fantasy. We see Christine, a young French woman with MS, alongside many other sick people and those who are well but fiercely religious on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. They are chaperoned by young nurses and a group of what look like soldiers. We watch the group dynamics change over the course of several days spent at Lourdes, visiting the shrine and taking the waters, attending a mass and going on a hike in the mountains.

As the days progress, we see Christine go from pragmatic terminally ill patient through to seeing her feelings aroused by one of the soldiers, and her envy at not being able to interract with him as her young female helper does. We also see the other pilgrims and their quite patronising and appalling view of miracles and the disabled. Christine's room mate is an almost silent much older lady, who befriends Christine when the young helper one day abandons her for a trip with the soldiers. This older lady looks after Christine without question and their relationship is largely silent. Is she a guardian angel? Maybe, but an angel that thinks she knows what's best for her charge.

The group dynamics get very interesting when one of the soldiers begins to take a shine to Christine. This coincides with Christine's miraculous 'recovery'. At first we see her previously crumpled hands unfold and reach out to touch a rock. We then see her rise out of bed and brush her hair. There is astonishment from the rest of the group, but also a great deal of jealousy from other ill pilgrims who have not been touched by a miracle. It's almost as if the arousal of passion for the soldier has awakened Christine's previously static body, like a modern Sleeping Beauty. But there is also the possibility that we are in the realm of fantasy. Is this all in Christine's head? Is she simply overwhelmed with the religious fervour of those around her and imagining a recovery and romance with the soldier?

The film is told earnestly and without any gimmicks, so we're left with making up our own minds about what we are seeing. If we take it at face value Christine's condition does undergo improvement but using our own realistic faculties, we know that a recovery from MS is a very rare, if not impossible, situation. It does really make you think about how you would deal with witnessing such an event but also about how we all imagine great changes to our lives and that these can be the catalyst for real change.

There is also another interesting element to this film. Early on, Christine has a second helper a slightly older woman, extremely pious and caring. Later on in the film we see her helping out preparing for the end of trip party when she collapses. As she falls to the floor her wig comes off and we realise that she herself is terminally ill with cancer. Is this perhaps the other side of the coin to Christine? Whilst the skeptical leave themselves open to many possibilities, do the religious only really have one chance at being saved and what happens when this chance is denied?

Something about this film reminded me of another modern film set in the world of religious fanatics/skeptics - Jesus of Montreal. They both deal with 'miracles' happening amongst non-believers and show that sometimes there is a very thin line between those that have faith and those that do not.

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