Wednesday, April 11, 2012


     When it comes to rating movies, how should a film like Requiem be treated? Taken as entertainment, it is horrible. The viewer waits, sickened by the inevitable conclusion, but when it comes it is still like a poke in the gut. It is horrific, yet not horror, and shouldn't be advertised as "scary" in any conventional sense.

     But it strikes me as brave how directer Hans-Christian Schmid delivers his story -- sharp and gimmickless. His viewpoint is clear -- the girl was mentally sick. Nothing other than ignorance and her own mind conspired against her. Whether this notion would have helped anything remains distant.

     But the film doesn't need vomit or swiveling heads, shocks or hallucinations. It has Sandra Huller. Fully absorbed in her role, Sandra furiously portrays Michaela Klinglar, a character based, apparently, on a real German girl named Annalise Michaels, who lived in 1970's Germany.

    Michaela, as many young people would, hopes to leave her parents for college, and eventually, a career in teaching. She announces she will be leaving for university. She seems healthy and capable enough, but her mother speaks quietly and archaically of her illness and its eventual effect on her future.

     Michaela lives with three people, her parents and a younger sibling. Her mother coldly talks of her daughter's limitations in way that radiates cruelty, not care.  New clothes that show Michaela's figure are promptly thrown away in the night for being trampy. Even when her mother presents a gift, tension lies in the air.

     The girl's father secretly resents serving as his daughter's shield. But her mother relents, and she is given a chance to try a life of classes and socialization. The family is religious, as is Michaela, but at her school, belief in a higher power has gone out of style. Her mention of God is met by snickers. An at first aloof old classmate hangs around with her, as long as religion and self-help are not brought up, even with earnest intentions.

     When Michaela first begins to suffer seizures, black-outs, and hallucinations, she manages to cover up the incidents.  Her requests for help from a priest invoke less-than-helpful response. She begins going out with a boy who promises, when asked, to stand by her, foolishly ignoring the conditions.

     When her parents do discover her degeneration, they make the tragic decision to involve the church in her rehabilitation. While her stretches of coherency become rarer, she becomes a spiritual guinea pig for exorcisms and is denied the psychiatric care she so desperately needs.

     Two films have been made involving the case of Anneliese Michels, the other being a Hollywood courtroom thriller titled The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which concentrates on the supernatural aspects of the case.

      Schmid has no use for the superstition of the latter, but at times his stance becomes all-too-clear, involving overwrought scenes with a harsh priest and an earnest member of the church whose cure for insanity is a good round of bible study.

     Even as Requiem falters, Sandra Huller's intense performance, conveying the hope for normalcy and pain of rejection and illness, almost single-handedly keeps the viewer's interest. Some say the docu-style filming is boring, but I say it is a courageous attempt to strip Annalise's story to the basics, dropping the shocks and visualized nightmares that distract from the reality of the situation.

For more information on Anneliese Michels, check out this link (Spoilers!) here

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