Review: Requiem (2006)

Director: Hans-Christian Schmid

****

Few ideological battles are as bitter, or can have such dire consequences, as that between science and faith. This battle is particularly scarring when innocent parties get caught in the crossfire. A prime example of this is the notion of exorcism, and whether or not so-called ‘possession’ is simply symptomatic of an illness. In Requiem, the debate between science and faith comes to rural Germany, and in the process tears a young girl and her family apart.

Considering the nature of possession (invasion of a body by a foreign spirit, essentially), it has been given a rather sensationalist treatment at the hands of filmmakers (The Exorcist is no-one’s ideal of realism). Both Requiem and Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose were inspired by the true and tragic story of Anneliese Michel, a young German woman who died aged 24 after repeated exorcisms were performed on her to remove demons that were alleged to have caused severe seizures. Compared to Emily Rose, Requiem takes a sober and realistic look at the possibility of the phenomenon. Michaela (Sandra Hüller) is on the verge of adulthood as she prepares to head off to college in 1970s West Germany. Her strict Catholic parents (Burghart Klausner and Imogen Kogge) are not keen on this, especially as Michaela has a history of seizures. Their concern for their daughter is understandable, but it does pressurize Michaela into an uncomfortable position. Finding her feet at college with her friend Hanna (Anna Blomeier), Michaela is confronted by the liberal and carefree lifestyle of university, and her guilt increases until she’s stretched to breaking point. Her parents are immensely dissatisfied, her new boyfriend (Nicholas Reinke) is being pushed away, and then Michaela takes a turn for the worse. To whom can one turn then?

In the lead role, Hüller is astonishing. Combining naivete, strength and fear, Michaela is a most unfortunate victim; no-one can reassure her, neither her parents nor her doctors nor her priests. The combination of strict upbringing, college freedoms and her illness lead to a troubling final act in which Michaela’s family resorts to exorcism in the belief it will cure her. Director Hans-Christian Schmid presents this in a documentary style, whilst both he and scriptwriter Bernd Lange take precautions to ensure that neither the spiritual or medical explanations of Michaela’s condition is favoured over the other, leaving the viewer with a potentially troubling but respectful and sobering watch. Don’t expect a German Exorcist; instead, prepare to find your faith (or lack thereof) perturbed.

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