About twenty years ago I started my own version of the Passion Play, the last day of Christ’s life. I planned to do paintings from collected source material but I haven’t got there yet. “Stations of the Cross,” a German film from 2014 had its Rochester premier at the Dryden Theater last night. It is a beautiful film, one that sweeps you up and takes you away into its own world. That is, it felt really strange in the parking lot after the movie.
Told in fourteen fixed-angle, single shot, tableaus that parallel Christ’s journey to his own crucifixion, the film is as close a depiction of the church I grew up in as I have ever seen. Lea van Acken as Maria (Mary, Virgin) perfectly plays the innocent whose entire thought process is corrupted by deranged religious purists – Catholic fundamentalists. The opening scene has her preparing for her Confirmation as the priest lays the classic guilt trip on the class with a capsulized version of hard-core Christian dogma. Nothing short of total devotion to God is ever enough. Maria sacrifices earthly pleasures and her short life so that her autistic brother can speak in a crazy quest for sainthood.
When Maria passes out at her Confirmation service (the Catholic bat mitzvah) I was thinking about the many times one of my brothers dropped in the aisles after fasting for communion. She is taken to a doctor who thinks he see signs of bullying or abuse in the pale and weak Maria. “Stations of the Cross” walks a very fine line. The film is gorgeous like a Gerhard Richter painting, it feels intimate and real. The indictment of religion as an abuser is just below the surface in every scene. I really loved this movie. Maybe someday I’ll finish my Passion Play paintings.