Student Critics' Reviews: Stations of the Cross

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This year, the Student Critics Jury at Edinburgh International Film Festival made their picks of the Fest.
We're publishing their reviews of what they judged to be the best films of the year at the 68th Edinburgh International Film Festival. First up, here is Alastair Livesley's review of Stations of the Cross.

Strict faith and unrelenting self-denial are pushed to devastating limits in the German-made Stations of the Cross, Dietrich Brüggemann’s stark, strikingly original tale of lost youth based on a true case.

Fourteen single shots mirror its namesake, each a moment in the steady decline of Maria (Lea van Acken), a bright fourteen year-old unwavering in her dogged pursuit of the Catholic faith her parents impose. Though it hangs over the film like a darkening cloud, religion is not confined to mere villainy, Brüggemann instead taking a less heavy-handed approach which constantly questions its own views upon Catholicism.

An eleventh-hour miracle which uproots the viewer is summative of the film’s approach: too intelligent to wholly condemn religion despite a harrowing surface which may appear to do so.

As rigid in its view of Maria’s life as she is in her faith, Stations of the Cross observes it in carefully framed long takes with a largely static camera, both deepening the film’s naturalism and demanding remarkable stamina and discipline from its young leads.

Van Acken delivers a mature, accomplished performance, a visibly dwindling light as she denies herself all forms of pleasure, basic comfort and eventually nourishment.

Familiar tropes of the coming-of-age schoolgirl tale, the first crush, the gym class bullying and the heated family arguments play out with unsettling implications.

Yet as Maria’s onscreen interactions become increasingly cold and detached, her connection to the viewer is never strained the same way, underpinning the inevitable tragedy and leaving an admirably complex aftertaste.

– Alastair Livesley


Read more about the Student Critics Jury here.

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The Student Critics Jury is a group of bright young student film critics mentored at Edinburgh International Film Festival.


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