Sunday, November 19, 2006

REQUIEM - another deeply sad drama

This seems to be the week for powerful, intimate, deeply sad dramas. REQUIEM is a beautifully drawn, emotionally harrowing tale of a 21 year old woman called Michaela living in 1970s Germany. I say "woman", but young girl is more appropriate. Due to severe epilespy and an over-bearing mother, Michaela is still a rather innocent girl in her dealings with the outside world - although she has a strong and determined Catholic faith.

The movie opens with Michaela being accepted to university in Tübingen. She is desperate to gain some freedom and get her life back on track but her mother is sceptical that she can live away from home. In spite of this, armed with a new typewriter, some new tablets and her father's help, she goes to University. During her first term, she gets a rowdy best friend, a tentative sexual relationship and a considerable amount of academic stress which leads to an emotional crisis. Michaela believes she is being tormented by demons and turns to an initially sceptical Church for help. Her friends believe she needs to see a psychiatrist.

This is, essentially, the set up for the rest of this short, intense film. It is clear that the director - Hans-Christian Schmid - believes that Michaela is mentally ill, but he is absolutely faithful to her story in that he makes us believe that SHE believes she has been possessed. Both the Church and the rational explanation are presented in an even-handed manner: there is no prejudice and the movie is in essence a struggle between these two sets of belief. The director must also be applauded for stopping the movie before the exhausting series of exorcisms begin and before Michaela's death. To that end, this is not a conventional horror movie at all - there is nothing sensationalist here. Rather, it is, as the title suggests, an opportunity to remember and re-examine the painful experiences of this young girl.

It is important to emphasise that this is not a horror film. Several people who left the cinema with me were clearly disgusted by the movie's lack of shocks and horrors. But for what it is - a deeply sad drama - the movie is a complete success, in my opinion. The actors all do a fine job - notably, Sandra Hüller who plays Michaela. The script is tight, economical and discreet. And the handheld camera-work lends a documentary-style non-exploitative feel to the film. It could not be further from the CGI whistles and bangs of last year's THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE which was also based on the same true story.

REQUIEM premiered at Berlin 2006 and has already been on show in Germany, Austria, Taiwan, the Netherlands, Sweden and the US. It is currently on release in Italy and the UK and opens in Argentina on November 23rd. REQUIEM opens in Denmark, Belgium and France in December.

No comments:

Post a Comment