Stations of the Cross

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Most people brought up in the Catholic religion will have followed the Way of the Cross, a spiritual meditation on the journey of Jesus from death sentence to crucifixion. It is a story told in blood, as Jesus stumbles and falls on the road to his death at Golgotha. The Passion, as it is referred to, is a central tenet of Catholicism. In 1965 the Second Vatican Council abandoned the Latin mass and other older elements of the Catholic tradition. Before that, children were taught that Jesus died because of their sins, thus placing blood, suffering and guilt at the centre of Catholicism.

Stations of the Cross is an award wining film by Bavarian director Dietrich Brüggemann. It is a montage of 14 long takes that tell the story of Maria, a delicate girl on the brink of adulthood. The opening scene is of her and her classmates preparing for their confirmation, one of the seven sacraments of Catholicism. This will make her an adult and a “warrior of Christ”. Temptation is everywhere, in the form of boys and satanic music such as “gospel and soul”.

The biggest battle for Maria, according to the priest, is her own sinful nature. Maria’s family is part of an ultra-conservative sect who still say Latin mass. Her mother scolds her when she meets a boy she likes. Maria tells her mother that her new friend is female — a lie that triggers Maria’s own journey to Golgotha.

A central scene is when Maria goes to the priest to confess her “sins”. The priest continually probes her innocent intentions to impute motives of a much more sexual nature. In this German film the danger of extremism has echoes, such as when Maria’s doctor describes her emaciated state as reminding him of people he saw when he was a young man.

The static camera allows the actors to develop fine performances and the audience to concentrate on what is being said. This is both a strength and a weakness. Strong performances from Franziska Weisz as the mother and Lea von Acken as Maria nevertheless fail to convince us that Maria would act as she does. The film’s argument about extremism is carried in the dialogue, at an intellectual level, not emotionally.

Although the film is beautifully framed and often funny, what we end up with is an austere, bloodless exposition that does not explore the human basis of these ideas.