Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Film #23: Requiem (12)

Released: 2006
Directed by: Hans-Christian Schmid

This film is (loosely) based on the story of Anneliese Michel, a German woman who died in 1976 from malnourishment and exhaustion following several dozen exorcisms. Her parents and the priests involved were charged with negligent homicide. Although the opening of Requiem clearly states that the characters are in no way based on the real people involved, it does raise some interesting questions.

Michaela (Sandra Hüller) is determined to go to university. Held back in school for medical reasons, she finally feels ready to leave, despite her mother’s determination to keep her at home. As far as she knows she is epileptic, although she knows that various doctors have given her this diagnosis simply because they have no other ideas.

At first everything seems to be going fine – she makes friends, gets a boyfriend and does well in her studies. But one day, she begins to see faces and hear voices. Coming from a deeply religious background, she is horrified when she is unable to pray or to touch a rosary or crucifix. Seeking the advice of her local priests does no good. One dismisses her story as nonsense, while the other gets it into his head that she must be possessed. Gradually, she and her parents begin to agree with him, and she agrees to undergo an exorcism. 

Sandra Hüller received several awards for her performance, and rightly so. Her character veers from gentle and quiet one minute to screaming and raving the next. What you take away from the film may depend on your religious beliefs. You could say that their faith makes Michaela and her family dismissive of the benefits of medicine and leaves no room for scientific inquiry. The film also illustrates how little was, and still is, known and understood about mental disorders. Perhaps she really is epileptic, or perhaps it is something else. The film cannot answer this, but what it can do is show the dangers of ignorance and misdiagnosis.

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