Thursday, November 15, 2007


2006, Germany, directed by Hans-Christian Schmid

As with his 2000 feature Crazy, Hans-Christian Schmid displays here his ability to take potentially sensational or mawkish material and treat it with great sensitivity. Requiem focuses on a young Catholic woman who has dealt, apparently, with episodes of epilepsy and leaves her rural West German home for the university town of Tübingen in the mid-1970s. The opening of the film recalls Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves, in which a devout woman in an isolated community turns to the church in an attempt to deal with forces beyond her control, though Schmid has none of von Trier's characteristic tendency to punish his lead character. He's also adept at creating a sense of the specific provincial background from which this woman emerges, a world that has little to do with the tumultuous political universe of German cities, where Christmas presents are movingly humble, and where a father's gift of a typewriter represents a silent investment of hope in a daughter.

When Michaela (Sandra Hüller) experiences problems at university, she turns to her religious upbringing for an explanation, understanding her difficulties in terms of her faith, and eventually concluding that she has been, in some manner, possessed. Schmid gives a wide berth to the trappings of the exorcism genre, instead casting his film as an examination of a troubled mind, which is unable to understand the realities of its own disintegration. While Schmid's view of the situation may not be that of his protagonist, he invests her character with tremendous dignity, trapped as she is in a situation not of her own making. He's also clear-eyed about the bitter fault-lines in Michaela's home, lines that fracture again as her illness worsens, and outside influences, in the shape of two priests, are brought to bear.

The film is shot with a hand-held camera that occasionally creates striking perspectives, as if we're watching a documentary, the camera roughly changing focus to move closer to Michaela at her desk. There's an extraordinary sequence when Michaela, suddenly moved by what finally seems a liberating spirit, dances, intoxicated, at a party, like the ordinary young woman she desperately aspires to be. The unfamiliar Sandra Hüller delivers a performance of great commitment as Michaela, vividly capturing her disintegration, never more so than in a unnerving sequence in her parents' kitchen. Burghard Klaußner, who also played the father in Crazy, complements her work with an understated turn as Michaela's staunchest protector.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States