Director: Felix Herrmann. Germany. 2022. 78 minutes
There is a thriving sector of film devoted to the Christian religion today – but as it is widely associated with the American fundamentalist right, it is one of the most unsavory areas of contemporary cinema. Elsewhere in the world, it takes commitment, nerve and, dare we say, faith to seriously attempt to tackle Christian themes on screen. Successful examples are few – that of Paul Schrader First reformed being a recent mainstream example – but young German writer-director Felix Herrmann rises to the challenge with a quiet commitment to god is a beetlea thoughtful dramatic essay that is both theological and more generally philosophical.
The lead actors seemingly chosen for their likable and calm simplicity flesh out what might otherwise have been a dry affair.
Presented in Munich, the locally-born director’s work is stripped down rather than austere, and emotionally as well as intellectually engaging; but the film’s decidedly cerebral approach will make it unlikely to find further exposure outside of very niche niches, even with God on his side.
Divided into three chapters, the story – which takes place in Munich and the neighboring countryside – begins with Aline (Amelle Schwerk). Having just failed to graduate from design studies and recently abandoned by her boyfriend, she reluctantly travels to Munich to train as an art teacher, stopping to see her father in the countryside. He enlists her to work with him on a loft conversion, then takes her to the village church, where something unexpectedly piques his interest – and it’s probably not the squeaky choral rendition of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. Aline approaches the elderly local priest and, after a thoughtful philosophical pep talk from him, prepares to move on, obviously puzzled that she, of all people, has responded to the religious impulse.
The second section focuses on Benjamin (Hassan Akkouch), a serious young man who works in the video department of the Munich newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, but really aspires to write “radical literary reporting”, or fiction in the style of the current American novelist Ottessa Moshfegh. Wanting to “reorient his life”, he consults a nun (Aurelia Spendel OP, a real-life Dominican) with whom he has an extensive discussion about angels, androgyny, “resonance” and the Virgin Mary, prompted by his fascination with a famous painting by Fra Angelico of the Annunciation.
Later, Benjamin spots Aline in a Greek Orthodox church, makes a friendly approach, and later, in Part 3, after bonding over their art historical interests, they spend time together and discuss the love – but an open ending causes them each to think separately. voiceover, leading to a remark from Aline who explains the title of the film.
A notable aspect of the film’s agenda is its earnest intention to discuss Christian ideas in the context of multiple religions and changing conceptions of gender in the 21st century. A friend of Benjamin’s introduced the tradition of “tolerance of ambiguity” in interpretations of the Quran, based on the notion that “truth is not a singular thing… [but] variety”. And Benjamin’s fascination with angels and androgyny is linked, as a friend points out, to the theories of gender identity propounded by the massively influential thinker Judith Butler – a theme reflected in self-identification very line of Benjamin with the Virgin Mary.
The dialogue is stripped down, apart from the film’s philosophically complex passages; for most of the time, the actors seem to be at least partly improvising or speaking in their own voices, especially in the case of the main duo’s respective religious mentors. The visual execution may seem functional, but the film’s pragmatic economy is not without grace (no pun intended, and yet…). Occasional inserted stills, of Benjamin’s favorite artwork or writers, illuminate ideas, while Covid-era filming involving the occasional mask pays off thematically at one point when Benjamin removes his to reveal her candid smile. The lead actors seemingly chosen for their likable and calm simplicity flesh out what might otherwise have been a dry affair; However esoteric the film’s appeal, its introspective sobriety is certainly not unaffordable.
Production company: Iana Film
Contact: Iana Film email@example.com
Producers: Eva-Maria Hartmann, Felix Herrmann, Seren Sahin, Aylin Kockler
Photography: Rita Hajjar
Production Design: Lena Müller, Luisa Rauschert
Editing: Mila Zhluktenko
Main cast: Amelle Schwerk, Hassan Akkouch, Süheyla Ünlü, Jakob Defant