LIFF28 - Stations Of The Cross - Cinema Review

'Brüggemann at times feels as though he is beating us around the head with his own viewpoint - ironically what many of the strict religious characters he criticises do to the children in their care'.

In choosing to structure Stations Of The Cross in unwavering accordance with the religious artwork from which it takes its name, director Dietrich Brüggemann simultaneously creates both the film's strongest features and its major issues. Whether you see Brüggemann's structural decisions as more of a help or a hindrance to his film, if nothing else they make Stations Of The Cross a distinct piece of cinema for which it's hard to find a definite precursor.

Brüggemann tells the story of young teenager Maria (Lea Van Acken), a member of a strict fundamentalist branch of Catholicism along with the rest of her family, through fourteen sequences sharing their titles with the fourteen traditional stations that depict Christ's crucifixion. The director makes the bold decision to capture each of these scenes as a static shot, only allowing himself a simple camera movement on three specifically chosen occasions during the film's 107 minutes. Each sequence - most between five and ten minutes in length - therefore takes on the quality of a moving photograph, with characters and scenery placed precisely by Brüggemann each time.

It's an undoubtedly courageous decision from the director, and one which on balance probably works more often than not. Maria's story is a tragic one, and several of the sequences throughout feel all the more hard-hitting thanks to Brüggemann's simple but powerful shooting style. However, there are also a few scenes which are affected more negatively: they lack dynamism, run too long for the amount they add to the story, and ultimately become somewhat tedious. Had the director allowed himself more freedom, some of the less successful moments might have been presented more effectively, likely making Stations Of The Cross a more consistently complete package overall.

Essentially a condemnation of religious extremism, in particular the dangerous impact it can have on the young, Brüggemann's film is at its very best when at its most subtle. A conversation about sacrifice between Maria and her teacher Father Weber (Florian Stetter) during the opening scene frames much of what happens during the rest of the film, although the ideas raised are only explicitly referred to again once or twice; characters also refer to Maria being "very pale" at several points throughout, a key point which is only clarified during a dramatic revelation during the final sequences of the film.

At other times, however, Brüggemann feels as though he is beating us around the head with his own viewpoint - ironically what many of the strict religious characters he criticises do to the children in their care. There is also one key moment involving Maria's four-year-old brother which Brüggemann presumably wants us to see as coincidence, but ends up feeling too unbelievable to fit with the film's largely realistic tone.

Stations Of The Cross ends up more success than failure for Brüggemann, helped in no small part by a brace of strong turns from the fifteen-year-old Van Acken in her screen debut and Franziska Weisz as her overbearing mother. There are moments of excellence scattered throughout the film's running time, but also a not inconsiderable amount of occasions where you feel the director could have made better choices. Brüggemann's film is ultimately flawed, but also tells a harrowing and poignant story that will undoubtedly stay with you for some time after watching.




Stations Of The Cross is released in UK cinemas on Friday 28th November 2014.

The 28th Leeds International Film Festival took place from 5th-20th November 2014 at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. More information is available via the official LIFF website.


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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