You wouldn’t call Christine religious. As played by France’s impish Sylvie Testud (the coolest widely unknown actor on the planet), she’s a modern woman cut down by fate—we never learn when the multiple sclerosis paralyzed her from the neck down. Even though she’s wheeled around by Order of Malta nurses, our heroine seems mildly amused by them: “I prefer the more cultural trips,” Christine offers laconically when her tour group of “pilgrims” is shuttled to Lourdes, a revered site of Christian healing. Jessica Hausner’s superbly dry drama, a standout at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, builds in deliberate steps, befitting the thriller it secretly is. Christine’s devout elderly roommate stares on in sympathy; younger volunteers do too, with catty pity. You begin to want a miracle.
And when one does happen, as long expected, Lourdes becomes something special, maybe even unique in this viewer’s experience: a tale of competitive healing. Christine gently scrapes the cliff rocks with her hand and later stands up, a freak of fortune, the soundtrack exploding with Bach’s organ music. While her onlookers might prefer to see this beneficiary down on her knees in praise, she’s not transfigured; rather, Christine totters off with a cute guy, musing on the endless possibilities.
So controlled is the movie’s Bressonian restraint that it’s been confused for timid—not so. Hausner refuses to make her story one of spiritual awakening, yet also won’t rule out the possibility of a vengeful God. Does pride come before the fall? Sly and suggestive, Lourdes is a cosmic black comedy that bumps up against the metaphysical.—Joshua Rothkopf