I’ve been considering talking about Kreuzweg/Stations of the Cross (2014) for a few hours now. Wondering how to approach such a loaded film. Now I am not a Catholic and if you were to meet me I would be more honest in my opinion on the faith. Not to say I am extreme, yet I am not altogether positive about the religion. I’ve watched a few films recently that touch on the religion in some aspects, each time they have produced a strong emotional response of discussion. The first being Ken Loach‘s film Jimmy’s Hall (2013), the beautifully shot Ida (2013) and most recently Stations of the Cross. I know my position is heavily formed by family history and discussion. The church is only now accepting its own dark past, the forced adoptions of unmarried women’s babies, the awful sexual abuse in the church by priests. I could go on and have a rant, which I really don’t want to do. No religion is perfect for sure, however Catholicism strict teachings have not helped to project the best image of the church.
Starting with Jimmy’s Hall which is set just during the depression and the beginning of the troubles in Ireland. Moving away from the politics which is both messy and complicated. We have a fight between an Irish communist – Jimmy Hall (Barry Ward) who has slipped back into the country where he is actively encouraged to reopen a dance hall. However at every turn he’s met by the church, in the form of Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) who at first asks him to vacate the property, as it owned by the church – fair enough, could be seen as trespassing. All the community want to do is let of some steam and enjoy themselves. To learn new dances, to exchange ideas – maybe talk about Marxism too. There are flashbacks to before Hall’s self-imposed exile which sees a happy gathering, of course some trouble before he gives in. It’s the hold of the church, the teachings of the bible that are so ruthlessly enforced upon these people who are just wanting to unwind. The scenes between Hall and Sheridan frustrate me, even just thinking about them I want to shout at the screen. Maybe that’s the power of Loach who I find controversial, our politics definitely clash shall we say. I feel like getting on my feet and shouting NO, this is wrong.
Seeing Jimmy’s Hall effect on me as more part of Loach’s power as a director, I can’t say the same for Ida which is more honest and open to debate the life of a young women whose about to enter into the sisterhood, devoting her life to God. Which is her choice, not mine, I could never devote myself to a divine being. Here Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) a novitiate nun’s told by her mother superior that before she takes her vows she’s informed of her Jewish roots, with a family member still alive. Coming from a life in the church (left by her parents during the German occupation). Already she has a get out of jail card there. It’s unheard of to have a Jewish nun, the two words really don’t fit. Advised to go away and meet her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza) who is the very opposite to a pure life. This is the 1960’s, even in Poland under iron curtain. Anna during the course of the film, learns about her parents and life outside of the church, what she has missed out on and about to give up soon. It’s a big ask of anyone to do that. I was shocked by the sudden ending that saw her not being able to live with herself. The battle between her two faiths fighting for a place in her life. All this thrust upon her before another life altering decision. All this could have been avoided if the Catholic church told her sooner of her own history. Left open for our interpretation. Is the church simply looking out for her, did she choose to become a nun of her own freewill.
Moving forward to Stations of the Cross a 14 act/stations/chapters film that follows a girl Maria (Lea van Acken) from her preparation for confirmation to sadly her death. Depicted like a modern-day telling of the Easter story. This time not as grand or spectacular cinematically. Visually is very plain, the camera is held at one fixed position, only ever-moving when absolutely necessary for the station to continue to work. It’s very christian in design, nothing at all fancy, no special effects, focusing on the dialogue. Stripped of any beauty to allow the message to be brought home, one very much of anti-Catholicism.
Beginning with the last lesson before confirmation next weekend, the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood in the church, we’re allowed into hear what Pater Weber (Florian Stetter) is talking about, an emphasis on sacrifice and being a soldier for God. Spreading the word and enforcing the teachings, not to give into temptation. Something that Maria takes a little too literally, seeing herself as someone to be sacrificed for God. It’s scary to hear how unquestioning these children are, absorbing all these ideas, without being able to process them properly.
We discover how strict Maria’s family are, her mother Franziska Weisz is clearly a strict Catholic who can’t see what is happening to her daughter as she verges on anorexia and ultimately death. Again you want to shout at the mother, let her be a child, to make mistakes as she grows up. It’s just not an option. Maria a biblical name goes on a journey that sees her not get closer to God but ultimately further away. Unable to see past all the teachings and believe in her faith. Her upbringing is not to help either, with only a nanny Bernadette (Lucie Aron) to turn to, clearly not religious but can still see the good and love in his troubled young girl who is going through enough with puberty, to be faced with the a strict family that can not see beyond the words of the bible.
The film is definitely attacking the church and not holding any punches either. There’s an agenda here which can’t be ignored. We see an innocent girl becoming more and more troubled as the film progresses. Is the church that strict, we see Pater Weber gives Maria a body of Christ which ultimately kills her. This doesn’t take away the devotion that Maria has for her cause, rightful or not it maybe she sees it through and no-one can stop her, it’s the power of faith. Which makes me now reconsider is this an attack on the church or a modern retelling of the Easter story. I’m now more confused, showing how dense the Catholic religion is to non-believers of the faith.