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Saturday, November 7, 2015

'Stations of the Cross' DVD: Modern Religious Fanaticism Fable

The subtitled 2014 German film "Stations of the Cross" is even more more thought-provoking than the typical user-friendly cerebral offerings in the fantubulous DVD foreign film of the month club that equally wonderful home video distributor Film Movement operates. The character study of young teen/devout Catholic/Confirmation candidate Maria provides good insight into both early adolescence and the intense cult-like aspects of even well-established religions such as Roman Catholicism.

One artistic element that likely is a large part of the reason for Film Movement adding "Stations" to its catalog are framing the narrative in the form of the titular journey by Christ that is so central to the Catholic faith. The other aspect of "Stations" that sets it apart is filming each scene in a single shot ala the Hitchcock classic "Rope."

The nine festival awards, including some for Best Film, further validates the quality "Stations." One can tell that director Dietrich Bruggemann is in it for the art, rather than the commerce.

The following YouTube clip of the "Stations" trailer cleverly uses a scene in which Maria confesses her sins to introduce glimpses of other powerful or otherwise noteworthy scenes in the film.

"Stations" opens with Maria and her fellow Catechism students being told of the importance of the old pre-Vatican II ways and of the need to be warriors for Christ in every aspect of their lives. This lesson includes describing the enemy as anyone who does not share their intense devotion to the faith of said Christian soldiers whom the instructing priest sends marching onward as to war.

A related theme of the lecture is the importance of sacrifice in general and more specifically secular pleasures; the latter includes allegedly satanically influenced popular music.

The theme of sacrifice is especially relevant to Maria, who believes that an exceptional (possibly ultimate) sacrifice by her will cure the condition that prevents her four-year-old brother Johannes from speaking.

Much of the attitude of Maria is attributable to the rigid beliefs and equally stern personality of her maternal parent, who is only known as "Mutter" in the film. The emotional child abuse associated with this relationship creates a few cringe-worthy scenes; the worst of these occurs in the exam room of a doctor whom Mutter will not allow to treat Maria.

Secular issues center around Maria developing a friendship with her incredibly clean-cut classmate Christian. In addition to the sinful aspects of associating with an individual who is a perverted deviant merely based on his gender, Maria further endangers her soul by desiring to attend a choir rehearsal at the Protestant Church in which Christian is actively involved. Said choir singing soul and gospel songs creates additional concern.

The physical and emotional toll of the internal and external pressure on Maria is tough (but important) to watch. One can argue that she earns sainthood merely by agonizing over every small element of her life and having her priest and Mutter come down hard in response to the slightest provocation.

One especially powerful scene has bullies in the gym class of Maria mercilessly mock her for her beliefs. Two boys asserting false religious beliefs in the presence of our highly impressionable true believer is the least of the torment in this segment. Christian coming to her defense only makes him a target for the ridicule.

The final scenes truly drive the message home while including ambiguity that is worthy of post-viewing discussion. One spoiler is that better minds than that of the one writing these thoughts and of at least most of the folks reading them have been unable to answer the big question that "Stations" leaves unanswered.

The bonus short film that Film Movement selects for the "feature presentation" this time is (as always) a good match with the longer film. The German surprise festival hit "One Shot" uses the same single-shot technique as "Stations" and shares an equally creative narrative. It opens with a scene that seems to be of a typical film and concurrently becomes increasingly bizarre while smashing the fourth wall into rubble. This progression occurring in 11 minutes makes the success of the film that much more amazing.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Stations" or "Shot" is strongly encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.