(Hans-Christian Schmid, Germany, 2006) 92 minutes


Director: Hans-Christian Schmid
Producer: Hans-Christian Schmid
Screenplay: Bernd Lange
Production Design: Christian M Goldbeck
Cinematography: Bogumil Godfrejow
Editors: Hansjorg Weifbrich, Bernd Schlegel
Music Supervisor: Milena Fessmann
Sandra Huller (Michaela Klingler)
Burghart Klausner (Karl Klingler)
Imogen Kogge (Marianne Klingler)
Anna Blomeier (Hanna Imhof)
Nicholas Reinke (Stefan Weiser)
Jens Harzer (Father Martin Borchert)
Walter Schmidinger (Father Gerhard Landauer)

Reviews and notes

Hans-Christian Schmid's Requiem is inspired by the case of Anneliese Michel, a German student who died in 1976 following a series of exorcisms. The episode also inspired the recent Hollywood hit The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), a courtroom thriller cum FX shocker that peddled some deeply reactionary views about the limits of rationalism, and that was transparently a high-profile apology for Christian fundamentalist hysteria. (For the record, the Michel case also inspired the song Annalisa on the first Public Image Limited album.)

Requiem offers a refreshingly sober, intelligent take on its subject. This detached, downbeat essay in psychological realism evinces a tender empathy towards its heroine, Michaela Klingler (Sandra Huller), never lecturing on the causes of her trouble, but encouraging viewers to form their own picture of what is going on in her head and in the leaden world around her. Bernd Lange's screenplay never overstates the case about the emotionally repressive fanaticism of Michaela's mother, whose own disturbance is indicated not by any dogmatic ranting but by such acts as throwing out Michaela's clothes. Without too much being spelled out, we come to understand Michaela as the complex product of her own medical condition, her small-town background, and the delicate relationship between a domineering mother and a warm but weak father.

Visually muted, the film evokes the dreariness of early 1970s German provincial life. A colour scheme dominated by urban beige and rural oatmeal responds both to Michaela's enervated psyche and to the imaginative impoverishment of the world around her. Moments of psychic, and visual, liberation come at the student bop, with Michaela freaking out ecstatically under the disco lights to a prog-rock record laced, appropriately, with pastiche-Bach organ.

Michaela may be struggling with demons, but they are strictly intellectual, emotional and social. Seemingly gauche and blandly amiable in her solemn skirts, she soon unshackles considerable passions. As well as taking up readily with boyfriend Stefan, she proves intellectually driven: her punishingly intense bout of writing certainly has a masochistic thrust, but it also represents a long-overdue burst of mental activity.

But Michaela is caught between the new mental life offered by her studies on the one hand and the irrational promptings of religion and pathogenic delusion on the other. She is failed by those around her, except perhaps her friend Hanna and her little sister, Helga. Michaela's father, Karl (played superbly by Burghart Klausner, the hostage in The Edukators, 2004), seems not to share his wife's beliefs, but won't oppose her; while the solicitous and well-meaning Stefan finally colludes in the Klinglers' mistreatment of their daughter.

The elderly parish priest, Father Landauer, proves commonsensical, telling Michaela that God and the Devil are "symbols, not literal things", but is brusque and worse than useless as a counsellor. In fact (and this is a sign of the film's refusal of the obvious), it is the charismatic young priest Borchert who proves medieval in his beliefs. The film ends with Michaela beatifically gazing out of a car window, convinced that she is suffering "for a higher purpose"; she has betrayed herself, in collaborating with this rapturous denial of her real and presumably treatable mental problems.

At first sight aesthetically bland, Requiem gradually reveals its drabness as a powerful stylistic stamp: it is as thoroughly crafted in terms of restricted colour as The Sixth Sense. The shooting style - often handheld, with occasional discreet zooms intensifying the 1970s feel - suggests an influence of, or affinity with, the Dardennes. But more importantly, the wilfully unseductive kitchen-sink look emphasises the intensely quotidian, anything but transcendental nature of Michaela's experience.

Huller deservedly won the best-actress prize in Berlin for her sensitively calibrated portrayal of a young woman whose emotional extremes are so at odds with her muted everyday demeanour. She makes Michaela so warm and likeably unexceptional that what is done to her emerges as all the more outrageous. For all its understatement, this is a magnificently angry film.
- Jonathan Romney, Sight and Sound, December 2006.

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