THE DEVIL WITHIN HER?

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS FILM - Don­ald Clarke

RE­QUIEM ★★★★ Di­rected by Hans-Chris­tian Sch­mid. Star­ring San­dra Hüller, Burghart Klaußne Club, IFI, Dublin, 89 min

THE true events that in­spired The Ex­or­cism of Emily Rose, a turgid 2005 thriller with a per­cep­ti­ble Chris­tian agenda, are re­counted with con­sid­er­ably greater so­bri­ety in this chill­ing, un­com­fort­ably well-acted film from the promis­ing young di­rec­tor Han­sChris­tian Sch­mid.

In 1976 a young epilep­tic wo­man, the daugh­ter of de­vout Catholics, died af­ter un­der­go­ing weeks of ex­or­cism in a rural Ger­man town. The un­for­tu­nate girl had ear­lier de­fied the com­mands of her ter­ri­fy­ing mother and taken up a place in univer­sity, where, un­set­tled by pres­sures of work and new so­cial free­doms, she suf­fered an ap­par­ent ner­vous break­down.

Re­quiem sees the girl, here called Michaela, fall­ing un­der the con­trol of well-mean­ing priests, who be­lieve the voices within her head to be those of devils. Al­ready de­pleted by (we guess) anorexia, Michaela is sub­jected to a har­row­ing or­deal of de­nial and re­buke. The re­sults are har­row­ing to con­tem­plate.

Ad­mirably dis­ci­plined in its in­ten­tions, Re­quiem is al­most en­tirely taken up with the pre­lude to Michaela’s ex­or­cism. Paint­ing in browner brown than any brown used in any pre­vi­ous re­cre­ation of the dun 1970s, Sch­mid cre­ates a cold, love­less world whose par­tial con­so­la­tions in­clude lengthy excerpts from Deep Pur­ple’s som­bre epic An­them. At the core of the film we find am­ag­nif­i­cently com­mit­ted cen­tral per­for­mance from San­dra Hüller, whose taut face ad­mits poignant in­ti­ma­tions of doom into Michaela’s all-too-rare ad­ven­tures in op­ti­mism.

Re­quiem is, de­pend­ing upon your own re­li­gious in­cli­na­tions, ei­ther ad­mirably neu­tral in its at­ti­tude to the the­o­ret­i­cal pos­ses­sion or skewed to­ward a “ra­tio­nal­ist” per­spec­tive. There are, cer­tainly, rea­son­able ex­pla­na­tions for all the trau­mas Michaela un­der­goes, and the con­tri­bu­tion of the clergy will seem un­pro­duc­tive (at best) to any­body with even a sliver of un­der­stand­ing about men­tal ill­ness. Ei­ther way, it­makes for grimly com­pelling view­ing.

Brain storm: San­dra Hüller as the pos­si­bly pos­sessed stu­dent

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