Stations of the Cross review

Through an unbroken and locked-off opening shot that lasts over ten minutes, Stations of the Cross introduces to the ultra-conservative Father Weber (Florian Stetter), a follower of the Society of St. Paul and the man tasked with guiding a group of children through their first communion.

Watching Weber’s lecture of the children, we observe his instruction that they should become “warriors” for the cause; that his young wards must reject temptations, such as the evils of pop music, while also encouraging others to do likewise. Most significantly, however, Weber also teaches that sacrifice is good, and that the children should look to find things they love and enjoy and then sacrifice them, all for the favour of God.

Listening to this speech is the fourteen-year-old Maria (Lea van Acken), the protagonist of the film – though, largely due to the framing of the opening scene and the lack of cut-away edits, her central role is not immediately obvious. In a more conventionally shot film we would perhaps have seen a close-up of Maria reacting to Father Weber, and the editing would most likely favour her over the the other young actors.

The more static, less traditionally subjective approach keeps the focus on Weber, and traps the audience, leaving them to hang on his every word, as must the children. This is a challenging scene because of its content, but also because its form and subject are tied together to both frustrating and unsettling effect.

Stations of the Cross is made up of fourteen such shots, punctuated only by cuts to black and intertitles, and there are very few camera movements. As the increasingly disturbing plot plays out in this claustrophobic form, the film does become very difficult to watch. I squirmed in my seat, but undoubtedly for the good of the filmmakers’ purpose.

Director Dietrich Brüggemann and co-writer Anna Brüggemann have chosen to tell their challenging story of a young girl becoming more and more radicalised, in a very confrontational manner. The resulting film drives big questions on the audience, but without resorting to didacticism or simple button pushing. While the movie will prove hard to watch, the ideas raised are likely to nag at viewers for many days after the screening is over.

Stations of the Cross is in UK cinemas now.