Requiem suggests a Dogme facsimile of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Both films were based on the same harrowing true story about a German woman who believed she was possessed by demons, but only one keeps it remotely real. Director Hans-Christian Schmid does everything right that Scott Derrickson got so unwatchably wrong: No demons are seen or heard from (at least not in Pazuzu-like intonation), but they are apparent in the lead character’s misery, and though religion and medicine are still on trial, their see-sawing battle is waged not in a courtroom but in the hearts and minds of the film’s characters, who struggle to deal with the implications of Michaela’s suffering. Michaela (Sandra Hüller), who majors in pedagogy at university, is a holy girl whose possession could be seen as an accumulation of guilt, not unlike the patchwork of land visible from the mountain the girl’s friend Hanna (Anna Blomeier) takes her to as a reprieve from one of several exorcisms. In her timid relationship to Stefan (Nicholas Reinke) and her icy conflict with her mother (Imogen Kogge), Michaela suggests a girl wracked by a crippling torment that leads her astray from the comfort of her faith; even the first meeting between Hanna and Michaela hints at a betrayal that no doubt comes to weigh on Michaela’s conscience. Requiem is anchored in an asceticism that’s tempting to resist, but the story’s striking psychological complexity is not so easily dismissed. The film’s success, though, is largely attributable to Hüller’s master class in acting: Hers is not only a portrait of a holy creature frenzied by otherworldly spirits but a voluptuous reflection of the pressures that accosted so many women of Michaela’s age, time, and devotions.
The image, though grainy, is very film-like, with adequate shadow delineation and good skin tones, and haloing, though persistent and nondiscriminatory, hugging bridges, mountains, and people with equal intensity, isn’t terribly distracting. The sound is equally unspectacular but acceptable: the surround work is almost nonexistent but dialogue is still clear, as is Sandra Hüller’s screams.
See Requiem and witness the greatest performance of 2006.