Stations of the Cross begins with Maria (Lea van Acken) and her Sunday School class being taught the rights and wrongs of the spiritual world by a vicar who is lecturing them on the week prior to their Confirmation. I’m not religious and it’s quite a wordy piece, so I ended up rewinding bits to take it all in, but when Father Weber (Florian Stetter) talked about sacrificing things you like to fill that void in your heart with the love of Jesus, I knew he was talking nonsense – I’m certainly not giving up my PS3 and Blu-ray pllayer for anyone.
This piece lasts for a good 15 minutes, and as you soon realise, a lot of the scenes throughout the film are not only fairly long, but also recorded in one take and with a single, fixed camera, a process which absolutely blew me away. Sure, you’ll get the occasional film which will have a one-take shot that lasts for a long time, but such things need to be brilliantly choreographed – so, to base a whole film around it? Its style at times reminded me, in part, of Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. And the one-take aspect reminds me of Hitchcock’s Rope, where it’s made to look like the whole 80 minutes of movie is all one shot, but film had limitations of ten minutes maximum at the time, so he had to find a way to break them up whilst still making it all look like one shot.
Director Dietrich Brüggemann needs a serious amount of recognition for that and it makes me intrigued to see what he does next.
The title refers to a series of artistic representations which depict Jesus carrying the Cross on the way to his crucifixion, and while I’m aware of that in itself, I wasn’t familiar with the fact there are fourteen stages and that they are called the ‘Stations of the Cross’. The director and his sister, Anna Brüggemann, have brilliantly crafted a tale that goes through each of these and labelled each segment accordingly. Yes, there are no characters physically carrying a cross but for Maria, they represent that burdens of the situations in which she finds herself.
Lea van Acken, in her feature-length debut, gives a stand-out performance as Maria, a 14-year-old girl who’s worried about her younger brother, Johannes, who is four and either refuses to speak or there is a condition for which no doctor has managed to find a cure. Conditioned by the religious process, she believes that if she gives her life to God and effectively sacrifices herself, then that is the only way her brother can be cured. The rest of her family, including her overbearing mother (Franziska Weisz), au pair Bernadette (Lucie Aron), as well as potential boyfriend Christian (Moritz Knapp) all think she’s round the bend for suggesting such a thing.
Credit in the cast goes not only to Lea van Acken, but also to everyone else, since you realise that long scenes can only be played out in one take if everyone is bringing their A-game to the screen. And all these scenes make for fascinating viewing because they’re so well-composed and it feels, at times, like you’re watching a play.
The film is in its original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio and in 1080p high defintion and each scene is carefully set out and looks stunning, whether it’s an outdoor scene, as the family go for a Sunday stroll, or even a simple indoor scene as both Maria and Christian study in the library.
Sound-wise, the film is in DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio, and it’s solely a dialogue piece. In fact, curiously, there’s not even a score for this film, but then again, that allows each scene to play out in a ‘bare bones’ approach and lets them find their own power over the audience.
When it comes to the extras… there are none. What happened there? Usually, there are bucketloads of them on an Arrow release. Even the recent God’s Pocket release only had deleted scenes and a trailer. And, like that disc, this really doesn’t feel like an Arrow release at all. There’s also trailers before the main menu which really shouldn’t happen.
There are English subtitles, and while they can’t be switched on/off from the main menu, they can be toggled off while watching the film. I know a lot of people follow such information in my reviews, as so few reviews go into that sort of detail, but in a lot of cases, depending on the distributor, the disc we receive in the UK will be the same disc which is released throughout Europe and there will be viewers in Germany who don’t want to watch the film with English subtitles over the picture.
There’s also occasional French and Latin dialogue in the film, the latter generally being spoken by members of the clergy.
I know I normally bang on about a lack of chapters on most films released on Blu-ray and DVD, and prefer an average of around one every five minutes, which would equate to 22 for this title, but the 15 presented here work fine, and that’s because there’s one apiece for each of the fourteen segments, plus one for the end credits.
Running time: 110 minutes
Distributor: Arrow Films
Released: January 19th 2015
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio, DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Anamorphic Panavision)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Dietrich Brüggemann
Producers: Leif Alexis and Fabian Maubach
Screenplay: Anna Brüggemann and Dietrich Brüggemann
Maria: Lea van Acken
Mum: Franziska Weisz
Father Weber: Florian Stetter
Bernadette: Lucie Aron
Christian: Moritz Knapp
Dad: Klaus Michael Kamp
Thomas: Georg Wesch
Katharina: Chiara Palmeri
Johannes: Linus Fluhr
PE Teacher: Birge Schade
Doctor: Ramin Yazdani
Undertaker: Hanns Zischler
Sabine: Selina Sue Steeg
Helene: Anna Windhab
Matthias: Andreas Warmbrunn
Silvio: Christian Ienco
Ellie: Elli Seifert
Linus: Nicolaj Wolf
Marvin: Moa Stiefelmayer
Svenja: Samira Hadi
Carolin: Zoë Hauser
In the library: Michael Kurras
Bishop: Pierre Londiche
Frau Schneider: Barbara Bernt
Hospital doctors: Anna Brüggemann, Lena Lessing,
Intensive Care doctor: Susanne Von Der Heydt
Nurse: Sven Taddicken
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.