Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner offers a metaphysical exploration on the concept of miracles with her brilliant film Lourdes (2009). Set in the Pyrenees Mountains, the film follows a group of sick and disabled patients on their pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes where they perform various rituals in hopes of a miracle. The film stars French actress Sylvie Testud as Christine, a woman in the advanced stages of multiple sclerosis. Although Christine isn’t particularly religious, she is the only one in her group to be miraculously healed, which causes the other more pious pilgrims to question their purpose there. Through a specific story about the intersection between medicine and religion, Hausner offers a universal tale of self-realization, the unfairness of life and the correlation, or lack thereof, between behavior and consequence.
Hausner studied at the Filmacademy in Vienna and worked as an assistant director, producer, story editor and writer before she began directing feature films with her debut Lovely Rita (2001). Hausner’s films often feature characters in some form of existential crisis or on a journey of self-discovery, especially outcasts or misfits who question their place in the world. For Lourdes, Hausner was inspired by an idea that came to her of “a miracle that might not be one.” She spent three years researching religious miracles and went on several pilgrimages herself. At one point, Hausner dropped the project because she worried that she was making a depressing film that even she wouldn’t want to watch. Hausner reconfigured her story to focus on the ambivalence of miracles while adding some subtle black humor to the story. In an interview she said, “all the humor in my films comes from a basic understanding of the human condition.” The film was shot on location at the holy site in Lourdes in agreement with the sanctuary, although the bath scenes were filmed on a studio set.
Lourdes premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 2009 and went on to win the Brian Award and the FIPRESCI Prize. Hausner’s film had a successful run on the festival circuit where it received various awards, including three at the Vienna Film Festival and a European Film Award for Best Actress for Sylvie Testud, as well as critical acclaim. Manohla Dargos of The New York Times called Lourdes an “intelligent, rigorously thoughtful, somewhat sly film”. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote “Hausner’s sheer, exhilarating technique and intelligence, [is] like that of a superb musician.” Lourdes offered then up-and-coming actress Lea Seydoux, her first major role. Upon the success of Lourdes, Jessica Hausner continues to be a driving force in the Austrian New Wave of filmmaking.
by Raquel Stecher