Stations of the Cross ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Compelling, minimalist allegory about a pious teenage girl whose life begins to parallel the images of the title, as a result of her fantasies of sainthood and closeness with God, her desire for her autistic brother to be healed, and the temptations and frustrations of life in school and around her toxic, impossible mother. The performances are exquisite, especially Lea van Ackena's as young Maria, as is director Dietrich Brüggemann's choice to film each scene in one take, usually holding to a specific composition; this renders the story's progression hypnotic. However, the screenplay lays on the metaphor a bit too thick, and while the characterizations are complex, it's hard to deny the zeal with which I find myself newly angry about the ways in which religion, in this case a particularly strict sect of fundamentalist Catholicism, closes off a world and leads in many cases to outright abuse... but at the same time, that particular element seems a bit too easy, as if I'm not being challenged. Still, it's potent stuff... or would be if not for the irksome, Jeff Nichols-like surprise "miracle" toward the end, which doesn't negate the potentially trite messaging, it just feels like a failed attempt at ambiguity, which would have been better served by less of a sense that the characters were being used as pawns throughout the picture to make a larger point that is then, in a sense, muddied by this one peculiar choice. (Perhaps the point is to allow for the argument that the film is not anti-faith or anti-spiritualism, rather anti-extremism; but it seems this purpose would already be served by the relative obscurity of the specific beliefs to which the family subscribes.) Still, several of the scenes work as extraordinary drama even just as stand-alones, especially when outsiders look in on the tragic irony of it all, as in the gym class and doctor's office sequences.