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Stations of the Cross | DVD Review

Stations of the Cross DVD CoverOriginally premiering at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival, where it won Best Screenplay and a Jury Prize, Dietrich Bruggemann’s Stations of the Cross is one of the more underrated foreign theatrical releases of 2015. Receiving a paltry two week theatrical run in one theater at the end of July, the title didn’t find much of an audience, pulling in about fifteen hundred dollars. Though championed by director Paul Schrader, the title receives an equally demure DVD release and it will depend on word of mouth to direct more energy towards the complex drama.

With her family participating as members of a traditional and ultra-conservative Christian congregation called Society of Saint Paul, fourteen year old Maria (Lea van Acken) begins to find herself in rather a tough situation. Brainwashed against the demonic influence of rock, pop, and soul music, we meet her with a group of students being pressed aggressively in a pre-confirmation class by Father Weber (Florian Stetter) to challenge the status quo by refusing to accept the wanton tastes of others. This includes refusing to obey teachers playing music during class and abstaining from the temptation of advertising on billboards, etc. Maria’s home environment seems even less welcoming, with her mother (Franziska Weisz) an incredibly domineering figure, controlling the household with an indomitable, often incredibly irritable iron fist.

While we hear barely a peep out of her acquiescent father (Klaus Michael Kamp), she shares a connection with warm hearted French au pair, Bernadette (Lucie Aron), who looks after Maria’s developmentally disabled four year old brother. When a classmate (Moritz Knapp) shows pointed interest in Maria, he invites her to join his non-secular choir, a temptation which proves to cause considerable drama at home. Luckily, Maria has resolved to sacrifice herself so God will agree to assist her brother.

Though the events transpiring in Stations of the Cross are ultimately tragic, screenwriters Daniel and Anna Brueggemann often present the material as a dark comedy, enhanced by the chapter headings that begin to take on an air of ridiculousness. Each of these is filmed in a single take, a stationary camera coldly observing Maria’s increasing futility. Newcomer Lea van Acken is quite the discovery here, and despite the rather detached impression given, she manages to transform the film into an emotionally effective property transcending its sense of parable.

Actress Franziska Weisz, an impressive Austrian actress who has appeared in Seidl’s Dog Days (2001) and headlined Jessica Hausner’s mesmerizing Hotel (2004), becomes an increasingly villainous figure, dominating two of the film’s most powerful sequences as a rigid, controlling mother who drives her daughter into a terrible predicament out of stubborn selfishness.

Bruggemann’s film recalls another recent German title examining the dangers of blind faith and an ultimate ‘sacrifice,’ Katrin Gelbe’s over-the-top Nothing Bad Can Happen (2013). But whereas Gelbe relies on provocation and shock value to parallel sainthood with victimhood, Brueggemann provides a more effectively thundering condemnation.

Disc Review:

Film Movement presents the title with their customary DVD format, a bare bones release presented in 2.35:1. The transfer looks and sounds alright (5.1 Surround Sound), and the disc includes a short film from Bruggemann as well as optional director’s commentary.

Final Thoughts:

For those looking for overlooked foreign gems, be sure to check out Stations of the Cross, a title deserving of a higher profile. While we wait for Austrian Ulrich Seidl to grace us with another remonstrance of religious practices, Bruggemann’s film is exactly the type of antidote to satiate your appetite.

Film Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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