Rating 4½

Directed by Hans-Christian Schmid

Written by Bernd Lange

Starring Sandra Hüller, Burghart Klaußner, Imogen Kogge, Nicholas Reinke, Anna Blomeier, Jens Harzer, Walter Schmidinger, Johann Adam Oest and Irene Kugler

Michaela Klingler (Sandra Hüller), who comes from a deeply religious family, begins university, against the wishes of her mother Marianne (Imogen Kogge), with whom she has a slightly frosty and distant relationship, but with the blessing of her father Karl (Burghart Klaußner). This follows a number of years spent in and out of hospital, while doctors have tried to find a stabilising treatment for her epilepsy.

She soon meets Hanna Imhof (Anna Blomeier), who she had known at school, and begins a relationship with another student, Stefan Weiser (Nicholas Reinke). However, she has a seizure in her dorm room and, following another seizure during a religious pilgrimage, she goes to her pastor, Gerhard Landuaer (Walter Schmidinger), believing that she is possessed by demons. He reacts angrily, telling her she needs medical treatment, not spiritual guidance, but he also consults with a younger priest, Martin Borchert (Jens Harzer), who encourages her to believe she has a higher purpose and God is testing her.

Michaela stops taking her medication and her condition worsens. Hanna wants her to go to hospital, but instead, Stefan takes her home, where the priests conduct an exorcism, in an effort to rid her of the demons she is convinced have taken possession of her.


This 2006 German film draws on the true story of Anneliese Michel, a young German woman who, in 1976, died following an exorcism that had been officially sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church, a decision that was later rescinded. Her parents and the two priests who performed the exorcism were prosecuted for negligent homicide and subsequently convicted of manslaughter. The same events inspired the 2005 American film ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’.

Unlike that film, we are not treated to ‘Exorcist’-style horror here. This is a serious study of a young woman who is suffering from a severe and debilitating illness and the tragic consequences brought about by the
actions of her well intentioned parents and the zealous young priest who believes she has been chosen to be tested by God. The film has a chilly, brittle and disengaged tone, allowing us to experience the increasing sense of isolation that Michaela suffers. The cinematography is superb, using washed-out colours and wintery settings to further heighten this sense of isolation. The camera work gives the film a documentary-like feel.

In an early scene, when Michaela’s father takes her to the university and they are shown the dorm room she has been assigned, he gives her a gift, a typewriter, saying she will need it for her studies. When she returns home shortly afterwards, clearly happy and enjoying her new life, and goes with her parents on a pilgrimage, her mother gives her a rosary. The juxtaposition of these two gifts, highlighting the differing attitudes of her father and her mother, is a good example of the quiet and subtle way the film expresses the external factors that affect Michaela’s internal thinking about her illness.

The film is beautifully constructed and the acting is excellent. Sandra Hüller, Burghart Klaußner and Imogen Kogge, in particular, give tremendous performances. The film is never heavy handed in its approach to its subject matter and it doesn’t preach, at least not from my viewpoint. It gets an extra half-point for including an Amon Düül song on the soundtrack.

Highly recommended.

‘Requiem’ won fourteen awards at various film festivals in Europe and America. The story of Anneliese Michel also inspired the Public Image Limited song ‘Annalisa’, which can be found on their 1978 album ‘First Issue’.

Review posted 27 January 2009


No comments: