Lourdes – Day Three – Cinema Interuptus: The Albedo, Miracle Emergent and all about Cécile and the Fisher King

The annunciation of a miracle.                                                                           [© Coop 99 Films-2009]

Welcome to part four of this series or articles, which is a deep, though hopefully not exhausting, exploration of Austrian director/writer Jessica Hausner’s excellent 2009 film Lourdes.  Part One of the series:  Prologue to a Posy, lays out in some detail the genesis of the project and outlines its basic method, which is an attempt at a one-man version of film critic Roger Ebert,’s Cinema Interruptus.  Part Two of this series:  Day One: The Wheelchair is No Barrier to Desire, takes us through approximately the first twenty five minutes of the film, to the end of the first full day in in-movie time.  Part Three of this series:  Day Two, The Nigredo – Eating an Elephant, or Too Big a Rat, takes us though to the end of the difficult second day or their pilgrimage for our characters, and several important developments in: plot, character, and theme.

If you haven’t done so I suggest that you back track and start this series from the beginning – or – just plunge ahead and pick up our story mid stream.

If you are just joining the fray, what you will be seeing – reading – will be something that looks a bit like the screenplay of the movie, transcribed from the screen by me, with commentary, informal micro-essays, and observations interspersed between the dialogue and description.  For typos and other grammar specific errors we at the Meme Merchants Consortium prefer you to use the Comment Form on our Contact Page.

For your reference I have put together a character list and a list of some possible themes and discussion topics, lenses as I put it, for your consideration.  These are located all the way at the bottom of this post and will be there for subsequent installments.

Warning!                                      [CCA – Tim Davies]

Spoiler Alert! – Once More

Again, this is your polite warning that what follows will almost certainly prevent you from fully enjoying the film.  So, now is really the perfect moment, if you haven’t already, to go out and watch Lourdes for yourself.  I would hate to be the one to ruin that experience for you.  I hope you enjoy it, it seems to be on a significant number Top 10 lists for 2010 among people who are really serious about cinema.

Remembering that we left off last night at the Rosary Square with a gentle shot of thousands of candle bearing pilgrims filing into the plaza singing we continue the continuation…


Written and Directed by

Jessica Hausner


The rhythm of the film, or at least as I’m presenting it, in these daily episodes is starting to suggest an interpretation of the structures or orders underlying the film, or one of many possible interpretations.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, bed – breakfast, lunch, dinner, bed…                              Meal, experience, meal, experience, meal, to bed. [repeat five times]

Each day in the movie is a day in the life of our pilgrims and a day in the life of our protagonist Christine, but each day is different than the day before, and not in a random or arbitrary way. The world of the movie character is not a random walk.  While in each individual day there is a cycle or sequence that structures it, there is an identifiable, evolutionary progression from day to day over the course of the pilgrimage.

Anyone familiar with theater can immediately identify one level, or plane of development, that of the story as drama:  exposition, rising action, climax, resolution… all of that.  This film is of course is describable and analyzable within the framework of dramatic structure.  I’m just not going to do that.  You are welcome to if you want to in the comments section.

I’m going after the more benthic dwelling fish, rather than the surface feeders.

Along these lines, I was starting to develop an elaborate idea, several hours and 700+ words worth, on a correspondence of the psycho-emotional evolution of this movie to the four stages of western spiritual alchemy, but decided to abandon that notion, [at least for now] as it seemed to requiring an unnecessarily long diverticula into the western hermetic tradition in order to get to the nub of the argument.  You have been spared, you may wish to thank your lucky stars for that, but I am keeping the idea warm on the back burner in case I decide to return to it later.  I have also decided to stick by including the names of the corresponding alchemical stage somehow in the title of each new post, just for fun at the moment, thus you will notice some of the debased [good alchemical notion] Church Latin of Hermetic terminology creeping into the titles: nigredo, albedo, citrinitas, rubedo…

As I was working on the alchemy angle, a simpler series of insights into the development of the theme of miraculous healing started coming to my mind, which I think is worth sharing at this point as something to keep an eye on as you watch the movie proceed.  There are of course many possible themes to take into consideration, but as a first pass with the data I will suggest that there is an obvious theme about miracles and the miraculous with our protagonist Christine and the other character that changes with each passing day, and that there are particular events or crises that occur between dinner and breakfast each day that signals the shift to the next theme.



Turning Points [suggested]

First Evening Setting the expectations Cécile’s prologue
Day One Hoping for a miracle Christina becoming sick
Day Two Looking for a miracle Midnight procession/Cécile’s dream
Day Three Miracle emergent Cécile’s stroke
Day Four Miracle in the open Reminder of Cécile’s condition
Day Five Internalizing the miracle Christine falling while dancing [the future]

For instance Day One’s theme ‘hoping for a miracle’ Christine’s and other characters hopes and expectations about the prospects for miraculous healing are the topic of exploratoin.  That day’s experiences turn on the event of Christine becoming ill in the evening.  The next day’s them revolves around the more active looking for the miracle which then turn into the Third Day’s theme of the “emergent miracle” following the candle light procession of the intervening night.  Pay attention to the themes and the turning points and see what happens.

Notice as each day goes by that on the scale of the entire pilgrimage how the themes evolve from:  gross, materialistic, social, and exterior, to concerns that are: subtle, spiritual, individual and interior.  This is the level that I was aiming at with my aborted allusion to the alchemical.

Anfortas – Cécile as Fisher King’?                                                                       [© Coop 99 Films-2009]


We see low angled light is coming in through the windows of the refectory; it is morning again.  Pilgrims seated at their tables, once again breaking their fast together, are filling the space with the sounds of amiable conversation and mealtime noises.

We see Cécile from waist up, standing in the center of the assembly.  She makes the involuntary reach for her temple and touch of her hairline again.  This may look like purely a nervous habit, but we should be looking for the layer underneath.  She looks around the room, winding herself up to make an announcement to the assembly.

We begin our day with a reminder that there is something up with Cécile’s health, or she has some kind of nervous habit.  We also notice her reluctance to disturb the socializing, she looks and gauges the attention of the room before breaking in to the social space, but she also checks very carefully to make sure that people are actually paying attention to her before she begins.  This is a skill.

                         [to the assembly]
     Shhhh!   Shh!

We see Cécile look around her and wait for quiet and attention from the assembly.  Heads start to turn towards her

                           CÉCILE – CONT.
     Shhh!  Shhh!

The room grows quiet as the group’s attention shifts to Cécile.

                           CÉCILE – CONT.
                           [with a smile]
     This morning we have free time.
     You can choose between confession and going to the Baths.
     Benefit from this opportunity.
     We will meet at 2:00 at the Basilica of the Rosary for the 
     Please be on time.

Well, we seem to be back to Cécile as tour leader.  Cécile is also very careful to present herself in a softly expressive and friendly way to her audience.  The reminder to be punctual to the photo is polite and restrained [hardly a “martinet” here].  In light of our growing concerns over Cécile’s health, this is a good time to start wondering how much of a social mask Cécile presents to the world rather than her more natural self.


We see Maria setting down her glass to finish her meal.  Christine, who has already finished her meal, sits quietly looking discomposed.  M. Hruby and Sonja have already left the table.

…driven off maybe by the frigidity that has settled over the table.  We notice that Christine is not looking quite as well put together this morning, and that she is not wearing a turtleneck this morning, so we are actually seeing a little more of Christina today.  The two women seem upset with each other, neither one will make eye contact with the other.

We see Maria get up, unlock the wheels of Maria’s wheelchair, and moves to wheel Christine out to the lobby.  Neither woman looks at the other.  Maria has forgotten to remove Christine’s napkin.  Maria starts to roll Christine forward.

We see Cécile coming up behind Maria.

                         [slightly annoyed]
     The napkin?
                        [embarrassed smile]
     Oh, yes.  Sorry.

We see Maria remove the napkin and put it away on the table.  Christine smiles at the improvement to the situation.  

Maria is not paying attention, dropping the ball, or the napkin as the case may be.

We see Cécile come up right behind Maria quietly and address Christine.

                    [to Christine, quiet but firm]
     I dreamed about you last night.

We see Maria and Christine stop and turn their heads to listen. Cécile continues without waiting for approval.

                       [to Christine, quietly]
     The Virgin Mary appeared to you, and said something to you.
                          [trifle annoyed]
     What did she tell me?

 Christine seems a trifle disbelieving,

                      [to Christine, quietly]
                 “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”

We see our view blocked suddenly by several pilgrims walking by, preventing us from seeing Christine’s reaction.

Once the pilgrims pass, we see Christine and Maria are gone.  Cécile is left standing by herself, looking very thoughtful.

This was quite a shift from yesterday morning.  There are undoubtedly many ways to interpret this transaction, but one possible place to start is how unexpected it is.  After yesterday’s dream-sharing experience it seems to be about the most unlikely of all possible occurrences.  Whether Cécile’s previous performance was an intentional invalidation of Christine’s dream of the Virgin Mary, or it was somehow Cécile’s very Catholic version of being comforting and reassuring to a permanently disabled Christine, Cécile stands to lose face by butting in now with a dream-sharing of her own.  What can Cécile expect from this effort except some more bad feelings?  As bold as she is being with this announcement, Cécile has actually put herself in a very vulnerable position.

I credit Cécile with the intelligence to realize that she might well wind up with some egg on her face over this, even if she lacked some restraint yesterday.  So, I find it interesting that Cécile found it important enough to risk more injury to the relationship by announcing her dream to Christine in public.

My read of Cécile [or projection upon her as a character] is that relating what seemed to her a possibly prophetic dream was something of a duty.  If you are Catholic and the Virgin Mary comes to you in a dream, you just don’t keep it to yourself [unless she tells you to I suppose] you do something about it.  A more restrained approach might be to check in with the priest first, but Cécile seems to be very much under her own guidance, which is perhaps not being a very good Catholic.

Cécile’s dream, if nothing else, shows that her subconscious has been working hard on the issue of Christine.  The dream is also prophetic as it turns out, so this dream incident does show that there is some kind of a linking of fates between Cécile and Christine.  But, what kind of linkage?  It’s not clear yet, but the truth of its prophetic nature becomes clear soon.

It is interesting that Cécile’s dream has the effect of completing Christine’s dream by supplying to Christine what she couldn’t hear for herself in her own dream, the Virgin Mary’s command to rise and walk.  It also is the annunciation [good Catholic word] that the miracle is in the pipes.  The theme of ‘Miracle Emergent’ shifts into gear

What ever else might be going on in the future, the transaction has left Cécile very thoughtful and alone in the room.  Is she wondering if her message got through?


We see Kuno and the Boys chatting and putting on their berets as they prepare to depart for the day.  Kuno reaches over to the bar for a last sip of his espresso.

We follow Kuno as he sets his cup back down and walk from the bar over to the Lobby and starts to pass behind Christine in her wheelchair and Maria standing quietly at the ready behind her.

We see Kuno notice Christine.  Christine has been looking at Kuno as he approached and is smiling brightly.  Maria has been looking down a little shyly.

We see Kuno think of something, stop, back track two steps and turn to face Christine directly.

                           [to Christine]
     So, is Lourdes better than Rome?

Maria, now looks intently at Kuno.  Christine is the happiest we have seen her in a while.

                             [to Kuno]
     Let’s just say that Rome is somehow… more cultural.

For all of Maria’s girlish desire, she seems to be very inhibited about expressing her interest to Kuno directly.  Christine, seems unafraid, or uninhibited, in this way, she is actually being pretty assertive.

Sometimes a touch on the hand is worth two on the bush.                           [© Coop 99 Films-2009]

                           [to Christine]
     You’re right.  I prefer Rome too.

We see Kuno lean down to give Christine a little squeeze on the hand.  Christine looks down, shyly happy.  Maria looks like she feels a little slighted.

Kuno, we see here, is starting to see Christine as more than a lump in a wheelchair for the first time.  Whether Kuno remembered Christine from Rome or not, he has at least lowered his shields, or opened his eyes, to admit Christine as someone deserving, and needing, a little personal warmth.  We also get a good look at the ring on his hand, what is that?  Christine is deeply affected by the touch, looking down at her hand then over towards the off-screen Kuno.

In the background of this activity, the Two Biddies are planning their morning.

                              BIDDY TWO
                  [in the background, to Biddy One]
     Do you prefer confession or the Baths?
                              BIDDY ONE
                           [to Biddy Two ]
     We could do both.

Neat trick if your audience can catch it, to suggest that the morning might allow for both of Cécile’s options.  Without subtitles I probably would have missed it.

Maria puts on Christine’s famous red rain-hat, but without the same care and attention as yesterday.  She makes a couple of glances towards Kuno.  Christine keeps her eyes fixed on the prize.

This is a triumphal moment for Christine, and a bit of a dissing for Maria; Kuno did not even politely acknowledge Maria.  I might be a little hurt too.  I actually felt a bit sorry for Maria here.  It wasn’t’ very polite.  I thought European men were supposed to have this sort of thing down.  I guess I’m not the only barbarian who misses these important social niceties – or – is this just a bit of a social class reversal?  Is it that Christine is now perceived as the important person [served] and worthy of notice, and Maria is in the inferior position [servant] and thus unworthy of notice, where as previously Christine as disabled person was of inferior rank and thus unworthy of notice?

Maria does not take this at all well, actually very immature and bratish.

                           [to Christine]
     Do you mind if I don’t come with you?

We see Maria dash off after Kuno, without waiting for a reply.

We start to follow Maria, but settle on Sonja who notices Maria’s misdemeanor.


We Kuno and the Boys at the Lobby’s exit as they turn to walk out the door.  Mme. Carré is kneeling in prayer in front of Our Neon Lady of Lourdes as is her wont before leaving for the day.

                              SONJA – V.O.
                        [calling out to Maria]
     You can’t just leave her!

We see Maria dash towards the door after Kuno, turn to talk to Sonja, then continue out the door with a clatter of heels.

Maria is lucky she wasn’t one of mine, I would have fired her on the spot and sent her packing – you don’t do that.

                        [calling back to Sonja]
     I’ll be back…

We see Mme Carré, cross herself, stand up stiffly, turn towards Christine, look at her and start to head our way.

We see Mme Carré approach, slow, and when she is waist to head in our view stops, holding herself open in a motherly way to Christine.

I can’t help but notice that Our Neon Lady of Lourdes is catching a great many of these moments.  Here there is a kind of changing of the guard as well.  Maria becomes more marginalized as a character and Mme. Carré steps in to fill the role of caretaker of Christine.

Watch the eyes, watch the hands.                                                                       [© Coop 99 Films-2009]


We see the interior of a handicap accessible confessional; it is simple, spacious and softly lit from a clerestory to the rear.  As simple, modernist cross hangs on the sidewall of the chamber.

Father Nigl is sitting very quietly on a bench along the back wall directly under the clerestory, looking thoughtful and mile.  He is wearing his priest’s stole for the first time and his hands are clasped together, resting gently in his lap.

We see Christine sitting in profile to us in her wheelchair, wearing her blue jacket but not her hat.  She is troubled but is having a hard time starting to talk.

There is a lot of pent up emotion inside Christine and it takes a moment for her to get it out.  This is also another chance to notice how tightly curled up and claw-like Christine’s hands are.  Is there a metaphor there?  Is she holding on to something? Or, is it that she cannot open her hands to receive?  It’s interesting to notice that later she receives her healing through her hands.

     I am often angry.

We see Christine look around with her eye, but not towards Fr. Nigl.

Christine starts off with a variant of the more Catholic formalism of confession, framing what you say, or want to say, in terms of confession of a sin.  Once she gets past that point she very quickly shifts into a more open and conversational tone.  Talking almost as if to herself – a confession of the heart?  The rest of the conversation between the two dispenses will all of the normal formalism of the ritual of the sacrament.

Christine’s demeanor seems to exhibit a kind of metastability; there is normal resting place of relative passivity, which once she manages to get boosted out of, it’s a quick transition to a more expressive state, and one of great self-honesty about her feelings.

     Why did I fall ill and not someone else?
     Why me?
     Sometimes I envy the others, 
     those who can walk and do everything normally… 
     without thinking.

We see her look down sadly, reflecting on her condition.

Envy is a sin too, but she is matter of fact and honest about it.

     There are some worse off than me, 
     but I don’t feel any pity for them.
     I’d like to be healthy too, and have a normal life.

“Pourquoi moi?”  “Why me?”  but why am I even asking that question?  Is this confession merely self-pity on Christine’s part, a sin, or talking about self-pity from a position of some detachment and self-knowledge.  She is also honest about her envy, wanting health and some version of a normal life, which is understandable.

There is a long pause, almost ten seconds.  We see Father Nigl raise his head and ask.


                             FATHER NIGL
     What is that?

We see Father Nigl has been in soft focus all this while, and now comes into focus, a the same time Christine goes into soft focus.

Christine seems genuinely startled by the insight of Fr. Nigl’s reply.  This was not an reply she expected.  What does it mean?

                        FATHER NIGL – CONT.
                        [substantial pause]
     A normal life?
                        [substantial pause]
     Your life is unique.
     Each life is unique.
     God created this diversity.
     Each life is different, none is better than another.
     Or, to you think that someone who can use his legs,
     is necessarily happier?

Or is it just some kind of a dodge around the issue?  How do you understand being struck down with a disease like this, you did nothing wrong?  …or did nothing wrong in a modern conception of cause and effect.  In the pre-modern mind there are of course conceptions of cause and effect that could easily place Christine squarely to blame for her condition and lack of progress at healing.  [As an aside it is interesting to note how the New Age is chock full of these pre-modern notions of cause and effect and blame]   It would be different if she had wound up in a chair after driving after a night of heavy drinking, or pursuing a high risk sport, or even being in the wrong place at the wrong time to be crashed into by some other drunk.  This just happened, no reason, no explanation.  How do you make making meaning out of the mysterious?  – without blaming God? – or flattening the Mystery into a cartoon version of God’s plans and destinies for you.  One could imagine that to Christine this particular line of reasoning could sound a little disingenuous.


This cut in particular felt a little jumpy.

We see Christine, but still not centered in the frame, staring off it seems, but deeply into herself.  With this lighting, we notice more strongly, there is a certain thinness about her face, a certain hollowness around her eyes, a presentiment of her mortality.

                          FATHER NIGL – V.O.
                         [mostly out of frame]
     Let’s pray together.
     Lord heal this young woman.  Heal her soul.  
     And, if you wish, heal her body too.

We see Christine give a look.  After a long pause we see Father Nigl makes the sign of the cross.

This was a particularly fine sequence.  Each line of Father Nigl’s prayer really struck Cristine at a deep, maybe unwanted way, little blows, and each blow has it unique set or reactions in Christine’s face.

So, for all of this, Christine still got not much more than the Catholic answer.  It’s not that bad of an answer really, in its way it is true enough, but not necessarily satisfying in the way one might hope.  To someone in Christine’s position an answer like that might seem quite preposterous.

Throughout Christine does not seem to be complaining so much as talking about her complaints, which she is able to reflect on at a deep level.  Without much else to do, it appears that she has spent significant time reflecting on her condition beyond level of personal grievance and bitterness and sees the ironies in her situation as well.

This is one of the most touching scenes in the whole movie, and also one of the slowest – no music, not like the Baths, a little box of a room, nothing to occupy our attention as audience except the performance.  Christine is paralyzed obviously, but Father Nigl sits almost as still.  There is a significant chunk of dialogue here, more than most of the movie, and it is given lots of space.  The whole scene is carried on very small shifts in expression and tones of voice, very subtle.  Testud’s acting is very good here, she carries all of fierceness of Christine’s internal struggle to the surface in tiny, micro-motions, and in her voice laced with a mixture of bitterness and irony.

It’s also interesting to notice how much of Sylvie Testud’s interior, namely her skull, is being brought to the surface.  The light from the clerestory, along with the paleness and thinness of her skin, is sharp enough to outline the profile of Testud’s face and highlight the edges of her features, especially the rather pronounced orbits of her eyes, she is not the picture of health in the way Maria is.  Christine is an ill person here, she has a disease that has the habit of killing at a young age, how close can the possibility of death be for Christine?  She is staring down a short path to an unpleasant end.  She knows this.  As audience we need to notice this.

Gerhard Liebmann also does an outstanding job here, his motions and expressions are even more economical than Testud’s, the whole weight of his performance here is carried in tones of voice and the strength and the lengths of his pauses.  Bravo.

This was a really great scene with nothing at all to hold it together except two fine actor’s abilities to hold our attention, and make us appreciate their conditions.  This is also a study in contrasts.  There is an enormous amount going on inside Christine.  Sylvie Testud brings all of that out in a raft of tiny, gradated, looks and movements.  Father Nigl is much more restrained, doing all of the heavy emotional lifting with finely shaded tones of voice.  He is physically almost as still as Christine from the neck down.  Fingers move a few times, slight turn of head, but that’s about it.

Christine and Anna, before their miracles individual miracles                    [© Coop 99 Films-2009]


We see Ann parked in her wheel chair outside the curtained off entrance to baths.  She is as we saw her last with her blue crocheted cap on, unresponsive, staring at the ground.  Her mother is sitting against the wall of the place next to the jamb of the doorway, hands together and looking off into the distance.  It is quiet except for the sound of the river.

We see the Two Biddies arrive.  Biddy One moves to fill the vacant seat along the wall to the right of the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, and squeezes herself in with a small look of triumph.

                              BIDDY ONE
                      [to lady waiting in line]
     Excuse me.
                              BIDDY TWO
                           [to Biddy One]

We see that Biddy Two is rebuffed and is forced to take her seat once again on the opposite side of the statue.

We see Christina rolling into the view, still looking withdrawn from confession.

                             BIDDY ONE
                            [Biddy Two]
     I hope that this time I’ll get rid of my eczema.

We see Biddy One sit smiling, looking pleased.   Mme Carré rolls Christina up along side Anna.  Christine seems subdued.  Mme Carré reaches down and locks the wheel on Christine’s wheelchair.

We start to see Anna’s mom more closely, curious, she gives Christine a close look. Christine looks down, then over towards Anna’s mom.  Anna’s mom looks away.

We see focus return to Christine. We see Biddy One in the background sitting against the wall, moving her lip, is she praying?  Christine waits her turn impassively.  Anna’s stare remains fixed on the ground oblivious to all.

I notice how my attention sometimes feels herded by the changed in focus from one character to the next in some of these scenes.


We see, drawn closed, the outside the white curtains of the opening to the sanctum of the Baths.


We see the front of the sanctum the attendants are all dressed in white shifts with blue aprons.  The ‘mother’ attendant standing to one side calmly holding her hands interlaced down low.  The stocky ‘crone’ attendant is standing stiffly in front of the fount that dispenses the Lourdes water for the operation.  A small statue of Our Lady of Lourdes stands on top of the stone face of the fount illuminated from above with a beam of light. 

We see the ‘crone’ attendant activate the automatic faucet of the fount and lets it fill the large stainless steep cup sitting on the shelf below.

We follow the ‘mother’ attendant as she walks over to Christine who is sitting, dressed as before, in one of  the Bath’s rolling chairs.  The ‘maiden’ attendant is standing behind Christine quietly but attentively, hands interlaced at her waist. 

We see the ‘mother’ attendant bend forward and gently put Christine’s hands together as if in prayer, and holding them in her own lift them up.  She turns her face to Christine and starts to pray.

Notre Dame de Lourdes, pray for us.                                                                  [© Coop 99 Films-2009]

MUSIC CUE:  “Lourdes Baths Organ Theme”

                       'MOTHER’ ATTENDANT
                         [to Christine]
     Notre Dame de Lourdes,  [Our Lady of Lourdes]
                     ATTENDANTS & CHRISTINE
     Pray for us.
                       ‘MOTHER’ ATTENDANT
                          [to Christine]
     Saint Bernadette,
                     ATTENDANTS & CHRISTINE
     Pray for us.
                       ‘MOTHER’ ATTENDANT
                          [to Christine]
     Oh, Mary of the Immaculate Conception,
                     ATTENDANTS & CHRISTINE
     Pray for us, poor sinners

We finally get to see what happens behind the white curtains.  The mystery is revealed.  Not so terrible after all, very nice really, but probably a little cold.

We see the ‘maiden’ attendant step forward, untie and fold back the blue mantle and expose Christine’s bare shoulders.  Meanwhile the ‘mother’ attendant continues to hold Christine in her attention as she hold her hands.  The ‘crone’ attendant stands solemnly by with the container of Lourdes water at heart level.

We see the ‘mother’ attendant step back slightly and the ‘crone’ attendant steps forward and pours the Lourdes water, without enormous precision, on Christine’s head, shoulders and hands, then turn and go.  The ‘mother’ attendant steps back and presses her hands together in prayer.  The ‘maiden’ attendant is still standing behind, eyes closed in prayer.

We see Christine left for a moment unattended by the other women’s attention.  She looks down at her own hands, she raises them slightly and starts to uncurl her fingers.

It’s about two and a half seconds, and one tiny motion.  If you weren’t paying attention you just missed it, the moment of transformation – a miracle has just occurred

The moment gone, the attention of the attendants returns.  The ‘mother’ attendant looks over at Christine.  The ‘maiden’ attendant steps forward and puts the mantle back around Christine’s shoulder, and the ‘crone’ attendant returns with the small stature of Our Lady of Lourdes and presents it to Christine.  Christine leans forward and gives it a tiny kiss.

Gratitude, wonder – heart felt.

I don’t know Hausner’s intentions at all, but intentional or not, this entire ritual of the bath can be interpreted as being organized around a structure of the lunar Triple Goddess, or partnership of the archetypes of three divine women:  maiden, mother, and crone.  Regardless your stance on the possibly pseudo-historical nature of the modern neopagan conception of the Triple Goddes structure, the three attendant/priestesses seem to fit neatly within this myth structure, and which, ironically, tends answer some criticisms of the neo-pagan conception of the triple goddess by the Marian virgin-mother tie-in to Lourdes.

As ritual theater I am still impressed. If you have ever performed an operation like this: quick, simple highly repetitive; twenty, thirty, forty times in a row, you would know that there are basically two paths you can go down as ritual operator: rote, repetitive, and bored; or rhythmic, entranced, and connected.  I was pretty impressed with these three ladies, each one acting out their roles within the archetype of their particular stage of life.



We see Grotto again.  Pilgrims are filing through as always.  Our Lady of Lourdes looks down on us from the top right corner of the view.

We see Mme Carré wheeling Christine up the wheelchair ramp to join the line at the back of the grotto.


We see a view at wheelchair height of pilgrims as they move along the wall of the rear wall of the grotto.  They run their hands along the pilgrim polished stones.  Mme. Carré pushes Christine along; she looks up and touches the stone above her head.

We see passive Christine suddenly become active, look over towards the stone near her, raise a hand, reach out and touch the stone with her fingers, then turn away and lower her and again to her lap.  Another unobserved miracle.  Miracles it seems can by shy.

We see Mme Carré wheel Christine, looking off into the distance, past us.



SOUND CUE:  tolling church bells

We see looking over the tops of burning candles, Christine with her eyes closed sitting in her wheelchair in front of one of the brulières.  Mme Carré is kneeling on the ground, open eyed, in contemplation.  There is a whole other row of brulières behind the pilgrims.  Hundreds of candles are burning.

Christine has retreated inside, processing her experience.  Mme. Carré is oblivious.

                           ANNA’S MOM – V.O.
                           [some way away]

We see Christine’s eyes blink open.  Mme. Carré remains lost in contemplation.

Christine may be introverted, she may have been in some deep place contemplating the emergent miracle that is taking place inside her, but she was not so far away that the did not immediately become aware of the disturbance in The Force taking place near by.  As I said previously, it is a talent and a skill to be aware of the upcoming shifts, the signals are often quite small.


We see Cécile standing in prayer in front of a brulière, deeply absorbed.  To her left beyond her, heads are starting to turn.  Cécile comes back from what ever deep place she was at, notices the disturbance in The Force as well, and turns her head to look.


We turn our view to follow the action.  We see two or three brulières down the alley Anna sitting awake and alert in her wheelchair, her mother kneeling on the ground in front of her, reaching up to touch her daughter’s cheeks.  Anna is smiling.

We see Anna move her hands; her mom reaches down and takes them in her own.

                              ANNA’S MOM
                         [wonder, amazement]

We see Anna looking at her mom.  All eyes are turning to look.

                             PILGRIM – V.O.
     A miracle?
                              ANNA’S MOM
                             PILGRIM ONE
                        [to another pilgrim]
     What’s going on?
                             PILGRIM TWO
                         [to first pilgrim]
     No idea.

We see Anna’s Mom reach down and take Anna’s hands once more.

PILGRIM – V.O. It’s a miracle.


We see Christine turn her head, with interest, to her right down the alley of brulières.

Anna and Christie behold one another [© Coop 99 Films-2009]


We see Anna sitting in her wheelchair, bright and awake, and looking directly back at Christine with a smile.  Anna’s mom has broken down, and is kneeling with her head in her daughter’s lap not noticing the transaction.

We see Anna’s mom look back up, with tears of joy.  Anna turns away from Christine and back to her mom with a smile.  We watch as they share a very tender moment.

This scene warrants another comparison to Mathieu Amaric’s character Jean-Domanique Bauby in the 2007’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; how ‘locked in’ is Anna at times she seems to be absent, what is going on in there?  Anything?  This spontaneous remission is in many ways really a miracle, if for no other reason than for Anna’s Mom it is a miracle – and for Anna as well, being able to return to the surface from what ever deep place she is usually confined.

Witnessing Anna’s miracle                                                                                    [©Coop 99 Films-2009]


We see Cécile give a long heartfelt look at the scene between Anna and mother unfold.

                            ANNA – V.O.

Then turn quickly back to the brulière in front of her.

What was that look?  What was that thought?  This is the closest we are allowed to approach the inner Cécile.  What a well of emotions:  sorrow, compassion, pity, self-pity.  We do not ‘officially’ know this yet, but this is in fact the look of a woman who is dying and knows with some certainty that her time is very short – in my opinion.  She still prays, prays for the souls and healing of other, prays for her own soul too probably, but in every candle she sees the diminishing of her own mortality.  She witnesses this near by miracle, but can she hope or ask for one for herself?  “How like a candle am I” you can imagine her thinking.

Löwensohn, has such striking features and such an expressive face, as an actress in this particular film she is another not-an-Amelie Poulin, but she doesn’t need to be.  As an aside, in particular when looking at Ms. Löwensohn I am struck by the width of her echinus, the cleft between upper lip and nose.  In, Hebrew culture I am informed, the echinus is supposed to result from the impression of the finger of the angel who before your birth tells your angelic being the purpose of your life and fate, sealing your lips against telling this knowledge to your mortal self.  What deep and profound secrets Cécile must have.

One of these people is dying                                                                                [©Coop 99 Films-2009]


We see our group of pilgrims getting in order to have their group photo taken with the Rosary Basilica in the background.  The malades in the wheelchairs are in the front row:  M. Hruby and Christina to the right edge with Sonja and Mme Carré behind them.  Other pilgrims and Maltersers mount the risers behind.  Cécile is standing to the left looking very ill.  At the last moment Maria dashes in and jostles Mme. Carré out of the way.  We see Cécile restrain a motion under her cape to reach up to her head.

                           [to Mme Carré]
     Excuse me.  Pardon.

The rudeness of Maria lately seems to know no bounds.

                          PHOTOGRAPER – V.O.
     Hold it, ladies and gentlemen, 
     on three give me a smile please.

We see Cécile put on a smile, but she can’t quite hold it.

We are looking at a dying woman. If you haven’t grasped this point about Cécile yet she is gravely ill, this is particularly significant in relationship to seeing her so up close in the last scene.  Look, she can barely stand up.  God only knows what suffering she is enduring at this moment and still manages to stay upright.  Here she manages to keep her masks on one more scene, but her grasp on the wheel is loosening.

In the second installment of this series I mentioned graal mythology as a possible source of archetypal antecedents for certain elements of this story, or at least a worthy comparison.  I’m trying to be restrained and not simply pour Lourdes through that funnel [but there are some puns there], but it seems to me that an interesting parallel can drawn between the character of Cécile and the wounded Graal King or ‘fisher king’ of the graal mythos.  The entire subject of the wounded Graal Kng is a bit confused, so rather than get wrapped around the axle [or is it really two axles?] of the various literary characters I will simplify by having one wounded and ‘fisher’ king named Anfortas, meaning ‘unhealth’, that I derive from the pattern of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival.

The gist of the myth is that Anfortas is inheritor of the lineage of Joseph of Arimathea as keeper of the Holy Graal;  he resides in a special graal castle in a graal influenced land.  The Graal King in order to perform his office must live a virtuous life; unfortunately he commits an offence and is deeply wounded in an unfortunate part of the anatomy, by an artifact that may or may not be the lancea longini, and which may or may not still be lodged in the wound.  Consequently the Graal King becomes ‘anfortas’, and the graal land suffers along with him and becomes a wasteland, leaving the grail king able to do little more than to go fishing in the castle motte.  Moving right along then… as it turns out the Graal King can be healed only by the virtuous night that destiny chooses to succeed him.  Good luck to him, as his fate would have it there are fewer virtuous knights in the world than one might hope.  As Anfortas’s luck would have it the first likely candidate who shows any promise of being the right one, Parzival, in an excess of politeness, fails in his quest [screws up is another term for it] by failing to ask the graal question.  Parzival is ejected from the graal castle and is forced to wander the wasteland until he can get over himself, leaving Anfotas to linger on in pain a good while longer, that is until Parzival can with his bravery and compassion, some key bits of training from a local Jedi Master rectify his past reticence and asks the healing question, “What ails you?”

Here is where self-restraint and good taste break down completely, but since we are in the noetic neighborhood, I will extend the current discussion to arrive at slightly more distant point, before I bring it all on home to Cécile.

The whole point of the graal mythos, and which is something I inherited from Uncle Joe, is how it is that Parzival ever managed to get a second chance at returning to the graal castle and rectifying his previous errors.  By God’s Law, he should not have ever have been able to do so.  As it turns out, Parzival eventually does get over himself sufficiently that invites Parzival to return.  Parzifal asks how this can be and the Jedi master priest who has been training him replies, “Parzival by your courage and your compassion you have changed the laws of God.”  This was what 1205 CE? a long time ago.  Uncle Joe explains further:

God is a function… God experienced, is a function of your manner of experience.  The elementary idea of God is transcendent of all forms, of all names, the tongue has never soiled it, it never go there.  So, any idea of god is historically conditioned.  It is a local idea, no matter how much noise people make about it; it’s just a local notion.  And so as man transforms, so are the laws of God transformed.  The laws of God are functions of the human psyche, in its historic expression and development.  This is what we get here and this is Wolfram.†

So this is what I am always looking for, that good, western, “man first” stuff, the expression of the notion of the relevance of the evolutionary nature of the human psyche and its expression in our conceptions of God.  To quote Uncle Joe again as it ties back to the graal:

The graal represents the spiritual realization of the individual potentiality.†

That’s it the whole of human evolution in a not-shall.  In the case of our dear Cécile there is something of the wounded Grail King, who’s function it is to attract his own successor, the one who can heal the wasteland by asking the right question, “What ails you?”  The tragedy for Cécile is that the graal question is never asked.

See?  Graal on the brain, what did I tell you.

                         PHOTOGRAPER – V.O.
     One, two, three…
                           [with smiles]

Cécile, reaches up from under her cape with a hand and touches it to her face, covering her eye for a moment, just as the photograph is taken.  Everyone else looks so happy, well except M. Hruby as usual.

Well, that’s one for the historical record, if anyone will ever see this version of the group photo. Cécile with her hand covering her face, the instant the shutter of the camera opens because she cannot restrain the pain.

                      PHOTOGRAPHER - V.O. - CONT.
     Thank you very much.  Have a nice day.

We see the pilgrims all hold still a moment expecting a second photograph.  Cécile still looks ill, but looks over at Christine.

Well, that’s it, it came and went very quickly.


We see suddenly the whole group of Malteser pilgrims.  When no second photograph is forthcoming they begin to disperse and head back toward the groups next destination.  Cécile starts to head with them, stops, turns and heads off in the opposite direction. 

I made an observation in Part One of this series about how the character of Christine as a group member of the pilgrimage, starts out as rather marginal to the group, she is involved in an interesting dynamic within the group, but in the groups scheme of things she is still very much just one of the pilgrims.  Here Ms. Hausner’s direction and Mr. Gschlacht’s cinematography show rather explicitly their concept of keeping Christina out of the center of attention, out of the center of the shot, or center of a group in most circumstances.  In the first view of the group photo session we see Mr. Hruby and Sonja in the physical center of the shot and Christine and Cécile on opposite margins.  When cut back to the shot of the entire group pilgrims we Christine is even further marginalized all the way to the left flank of the group.  Watch how this continues to change over time.

This is also the first time that we are shown the entire group of pilgrims together, all fifty plus of them.


We see a group of our pilgrims all seated together tightly in a small modernist chapel.  It is very quiet.  The only sound is of Father Nigl, dressed in his priestly alb and stole, praying as he moves from pilgrim to pilgrim.  He goes to those who call, one by one laying on his hands to their heads and praying for them.

                            FATHER NIGLE
                        [softly, to pilgrim]
     …heal also your servant from this infirmity of body 
     and spirit that afflicts him.  

We see all in the group are now in a softer and more contemplative mood.

We see Biddy One, Mme Spor, raise a hand to the priest.  Fr. Nigl comes over to her and lays his hand on her head.

                            FATHER NIGLE
     Holy Father, doctor of souls and bodies,
     you who sent your only begotten son Jesus Christ 
     to cure every disease and free us from death,
     heal also your servant from this infirmity of body
     spirit that afflicts him.

MUSIC CUE:  “Ave Maria” organ, then choir, then soloist

The holy spirit descends upon the congregation.  Several weep openly.

Father Nigl moves among the pilgrims, those we know and those we don’t but are now all familiar faces:  a woman, a man, Monsieur Hruby has a very touching moment of vulnerability, his lap filled with ‘objets sacrés’, the two nuns together, a woman…


We from seated height a view down one of the rows of pilgrims as Fr. Nigl moves to bless an older woman.  We see Mme Carré framed under the sleeves of Fr. Nigl’s white alba, turning her attention to this.  We see Mme. Carré, raise a tentative hand to Fr. Nigl.

We see Mme. Carré recive some healing for herself.

                            FATHER NIGLE
                          [laying on hands]
     Holy Father, doctor of souls and bodies,
     you who sent your only begotten son Jesus Christ 
     to cure every disease and free us from death,
     heal also your servant from this infirmity of body
     spirit that afflicts him.


We see from seated height Cécile, Mme Huber and Mme Spor, biddies no longer, deeply affected by the process each in their own way.  Mme Spor breaks down and weeps.  Mme. Huber is thoughtful looking into the interior distance.  Cécile turns to look, then looks behind her.  She still looks unwell, and whatever her interior experience may be seems to be somewhat masked by her pain.  As Mme. Spor breaks down, Cécile turns away.

The entire energy of the group has shifted dramatically.  Even the most hardened members of the pilgrimage, M. Hruby and Mme. Spor seem to have softened dramatically under the influence of their experience in Lourdes.  The pilgrims have entered a new stage of The Work.

Very well done scene.  To some it might seem pretentious, or unlikely, even just pretend, but this is actually about how it really works.  When you hold a group of people together like this under the spiritual heat lamp for a couple of days, quite suddenly and unexpectedly the heavens part and the Holy Spirit descends and melts everyone at once.  In systems theory we call these spontaneous shifts of a system to a new state of higher order, emergence.  In the spiritual racket we call this spontaneous, shift to a higher spiritual level: the Holy Spirit, The God, The Goddess or a hundred other names – or even just a ‘shift’.  Cécile seems to be out of phase with the rest of the group, she is undergoing a uniquely individual trial of her own – dying – she is actually a couple of operations ahead of the rest of the group.  The group also needs a witness, someone who is not in the experience with the others to bear witness to the transformation.

Note that Christine is held out of this scene completely, she is also on a slightly more individualistic program.

In the terms of the western alchemical tradition, the shift, or transformation taking place in the group, is what is call the ‘albedo’, the whitening, which can be symbolically signified by Fr. Nigl’s white alb [my appreciation goes to Tanja Hausner, for having read my mind long in advance and dressed Fr. Nigl appropriately].  In the western Hermetic tradition the albedo is the results of the summation of the first operations of purification upon the impure and chaotic state of the ‘prima materia’, the alchemis himself.  The initial stage of the work which everyone in the group has been experiencing in the last few days is called the nigredo.  In Jungian terms the albedo is the stage where the soul is first realizes that it is no longer completely at the mercy of its demons, and is able to gain insight into its shadow side.


We see from our familiar high-up view of the refectory.  Cécile is standing in the midst of the assembly.  She signals the group for their attention.  Servers pushing carts are moving down the aisles serving plates of dessert.

                               [to all]
     Shhh!  Shh!  Shh!  Shh!
                [waits for the group to come to order]
     For our last day there will be an excursion into the mountains.
     We will go up the Pic du Jer.
     I’m sorry, 
     but only the most able-bodied of you will be able to come.
     Those in wheelchairs must stay here.
     Our closing party on the other hand is open to everyone.

And who will take care of those who have to stay behind, and what will they do I wonder?

We see our view shift to Christine’s table; their table has just been served.  Maria cocks her head slightly to examine the gelatin pudding.  Christine looks down at her desert with rare pleasure and smiles.

                             [with pleasure]
                             [to Christine]
     Are you allowed?

Maria seems a bit put out.


We see M. Hruby push his plate away.

     It’s whipped cream.

We see Maria serve a spoonful to Christine.  Sonja starts poking at her pudding.

Note the sudden change in serving sizes again, this time from large to minuscule.  It’s also interesting to note the possible way the server can enforce starvation upon the served in a hospital setting by sheer laziness.

We see Christine finish her bite and turn to Maria expectantly, pleased.

                            [to Christine]
     Uh, hmm.

We see Maria serve Christine another spoonful.  We also see Kuno moving among the aisle in the background, wishing the diners, a “bon apatit”.  As Christine swallows Kuno turns his head towards, leans in towards her.

                           [to Christine]
     You look so healthy today.

Kuno on some level, has picked up on the emergent miracle taking place in Christine, not too bad.

                             [to Kuno]
     Merci.  [Thank you.]
                         [as he turns to go]
     Bon apatit!

We see Christine, happy, look over at Maria.  Maria has her attention fixed on the retreating Kuno.  Christine is suddenly inspired for more.

                              [to Maria]
     I’d like a little more.

We see Christine smile at Maria.  Maria feeds Christine another spoonful of dessert.


We see that from over by Fr. Nigl’s table, that Cécile has noticed the transaction, and we follow her as she walks over to Kuno’s table.

There is a moment of, “uh oh!” what is she about to do?  Is she headed over towards Christine?

                               [to Kuno]
     Sorry to bother you…  
     could you help me arrange things for the party?

We see Kuno turn to Cécile and giver her his complete attention.  The Boys turn and look as well.

                              [to Cécil]
     Of course, what would you like to do?
     I’d like to put a paper chain over there… 
     and maybe over there too. 
     And, maybe some balloons.

I can’t help but notice the dark circles starting to appear around Cécile’s eyes.

                             [to Cécile]
     Fine.  When?
     After the meal.
     I’ll finish my pudding, and I’ll be right with you.

I can’t help but notice how well Kuno handles this transaction, he is by turns: attentive, helpful, and polite, not a trace of attitude; exemplary.  This seems to be closer to Kuno’s true character, some of the faults of Kuno’s stinky twin I think may originate between the keyboard and chair of the writer.  For instance I really don’t think ‘nice Kuno’ would either have not noticed or not done something about Christine being ‘parked’ in the bridge scene earlier. Or, maybe he really is that inconsistent as a person.


We see Fr. Nigle and Madame and Monsieur Oliveti sitting at their accustomed table,  M. Oliveti seated against the wall facing us,  Fr. Nigl in profile to our left, and Mme. Oliveti back to us in the foreground.  M. Oliveti seems relaxed, almost playful.

                              M. OLIVETI
                            [to Fr. Nigl]
     Father, I have something to ask you.
     God, is he good or is He all-powerful?
                              FATHER NIGL
     Uh, hmm…
                              M. OLIVETI
     If He is all-powerful and good, 
     He could heal everyone, couldn’t He?

Not a fair question really.  Here Monsieur Oliveti as gadfly to God’s priest, attempts to put Fr. Nigl on the spot with an ancient conundrum.  This question has no good answer, so one has to wonder at its motivation.  At this point, Fr. Nigl knows that this is a game, not a fair question.  We watch him as he formulates his reply – very carefully.

                              FATHER NIGL
     He does.

…An answer M. Oliveti was not anticipating, the Gordian solution. Father Nigl’s gambit is to trump M. Oliveti with an answer that is both unexpected, and thrusts the burden of proof back onto his interlocutor.

                              FATHER NIGL
     But, for some it is more discreet.  
     It’s on the inside, you see? 
     Take a person in despair, for example,  
     who through God’s grace, find’s a meaning in life.
     That too is a miracle.
                               M. Oliveti
                         [conceding the point]
     If you like.

The question about the goodess and omnipotence of God goes back at least to the Book of Job.  To my mind no one has been able to propose a truly satisfying solution to that conundrum that doesn’t create as many new problems as solutions to the situation – while staying within a folk conception of God.  At the end of the day either your Volkergedanken image of God breaks, or you have to apply enough rhetorical spackle to cover over the ugly spots left by your solution.

Heraclitis of Ephesus proposed what is still my favorite, inside the reference frame, solution to this conundrum in what? c.550 BCE [from a fragment quoted by Plutarch]:

They say that it is unfitting that the sight of wars should please the gods. But it is not so. For noble works delight them, and while wars and battles seem to us terrible, to God they do not seem so. For God in his dispensation of all events, perfects them into a harmony of the whole, just as, indeed, Heraclitus says that to God all things are beautiful and good and right, though men suppose that some are right and others wrong.‡

The conversation ends in a draw, or maybe a slight tactical victory for Fr. Nigl [God frustrates all stratagems here].  It has however served its purpose which is to bring back to the front of our attention, that there are moral, religious and ideological issues confronting our attention regarding the nature of miracles, healing and God that demand our attention.  I do not think that Hausner was seriously proposing Fr. Nigl’s answer as a model for our own solutions to this conundrum.  I think that this scence was a nudge to the audience to start thinking about our own solutions – which is I think the right way to do it.

One, slightly bitter, Netflix two-star reviewer [Frank Doghearty?] said:

High-school-level philosophy; perhaps because it wants to address a relatively large chunk of people out of those who are supposed to be able to think on their own…

….The reason why I am giving it two stars, instead of one, is that it at least makes the average person think.  Sadly, the tools it provides are insufficient to answer the questions it poses.(Frank Doghearty)

Well yes, this is actually pretty high-school level philosophy, it is a starting point, not an answer; Ms. Hausner doesn’t stop us from continuing the debate ourselves at our own individual levels, at our own blogs.

We see Fr. Nigl and M. Oliveti shift their attention to the Refectory.


We see a view of the refectory through the glass wall of the lobby, one of the doors stands open.  Just inside we see Céline and Kuno stringing balloons.  Kuno is standing on a step ladder managing the string, and Céline is on the floor stringing the balloons and having a little difficulty with their height..

We see the reflection of Our Neon Lady of Lourdes watching, praying.

                               [to Kuno]
     A little lower please.

We see Cécile happy in the moment tying balloons onto the string, almost dancing with them.

This is a rare moment, the only moment in the movie where we get to see Cécile in a light hearted moment, still, its from a little way away, a little removed.  If you had come to the conclusion that there was nothing in Cécile light enough in nature to enjoy setting up for a party, here is your evidence to the contrary, pay attention though, you only get about five seconds to pick up on this.

Suddenly, we see Cécile stop as if struck and stifle a little gasp.  Kuno has his attention elsewhere. Cécile comes back to herself slowly but her task with the balloons is now more laborious.

We see Cécile is struck again, she throws her head back slightly and her headpiece starts to side off her head. 

We see Cécile stagger, trying to remain on her feet.  Kuno remains oblivious. 

We see Cécile stagger again, lose her balance and collapse on the floor with a gasp.  Only now from his perch on the ladder does Kuno notice.

We see Cécile sprawled out on the floor, her face half hidden by the frames of the open door, her headpiece is laying on the ground to the side.  Kuno still holding the string of balloons looks down on her.

Fallen angel.                                                                                                            [© Coop 99 Films-2009]


We see something is very wrong.  Cécile is lying sprawled out on the floor among the red Malteser balloons, head on the floor, one arm stretched out as if reaching for her lost headpiece.  Her headpiece we now see is not just the white veil of the Malteser uniform, but also a wig. 

For me this was a completely heart rending moment; what a terrible way to go.

We see Cécile’s head uncovered for the first time, and the baldness of an end-stage cancer victim.

This is the moment that changes the movie and your conception of Cécile as a character completely.  Whatever you thought of Cécile up to this moment now has to be completely recalibrated to the notion that this whole time, Cécile has been dying, and she knew it.  She has been end-stage cancer victim all along.  She should have been in a wheel chair, and tucked into bed at night by tender hands, not the one doing all of that labor herself.  So all of Cécile’s transactions with other character, her actions in every scene have to be reevaluated and reinterpreted, and you don’t have much time to do it.  Everything that unfolds from this moment on has to be interpreted correctly in this new light.

There is also much to be said about all of the layers of masks that Cécile has been wearing.  Well, she has just been unmasked.

As a for instance, some fraction of the primness, stiffness, “brittleness”, and ‘schoolmarmishness’ we have been seeing in Cécile, we may have picked up from the appearance of her wig.  Our interpretive algebra must now factor these terms out of the equation in order to arrive at a real rather than imaginary solution.

James Clark over at Wonders in the Dark, had this to say about Cécile in this scene:

Cécile suffers a near-fatal stroke while stringing red balloons along streamers for a social event for her flock. Her humorless, rigid, brittle ultimacy stands in marked contrast to Christine’s material rigidity en route to suppleness of carnal sensibility..

Wow, talk about missing the point of the movie.  The line of development of this movie, in my estimation, is all about the move away from ‘carnal sensibilities’ to deeper more subtle and humane, spiritual if you will, sensibilities.  Cécile, was far ahead of the pack in this regards, it takes her death to wake up the rest of the pilgrims.

Also, Cécile as the ‘ultimate’ in “humorlessness” and “brittle”?  I might prefer ‘serious’ to “humorless”, we have just seen some evidence to contradict “humorless”; I might even grant Mr. Clark “brittle” in some measure, there is a kind of fragility about Cécile that is a bit stiff, almost trussed up, but I think this assessment flattens the character of Cécile in a rather unfair way.  The grace, tenderness and attention with which Cécile handles here care of all the malades, which is well documented in the film, as well as the general softness and good humor with which she treated all of the pilgrims stands in marked contrast to the two dimensional [and dare I say totalizing] assessment of  Mr. Clark.

There is a difference between the person and the social role, in the case of Cécile these differences take some sensitivity to untangle.  Mr. Clark used the metaphor “flock” for Cécile’s group of pilgrims; to extend that metaphor, and follow his preference for animal metaphors in general, I will liken Cécile to a sheepdog rather than the shepherd, in particular the Great Pyrenees.  A sheep dog will when necessary nip at the heels of the sheep [daft beasts] to keep them in line, as Christine and Mme Carré found out, but everything that they do is organized around safeguarding their flock, its in their nature, it is their nature.

The Pyrenean Mountain Dog, a dog familiar to the terrain near Lourdes, is not just a herding dog, it is a guardian dog.  At night when the shepherds return to their houses and their nice warm beds down in the valley, the dog remains with the flock to guard it from attack by wild animals, and theft from people.  In addition to their large size and white color, the dominant characteristics of the Great Pyrenees is its independence and its protective spirit.  This is a dog that thinks for it self.  If that dog doesn’t think you are part of its flock, you are not going to get near it, it doesn’t care if you are the shepherd’s brother-in-law, if that dog doesn’t think you belong it isn’t going to let you get near his flock, or your family [this can be amusing to observe in the suburban American home].  There is something of that fierceness and protectiveness in Cécile.  Cécile of course has many other qualities, and can support several different metaphors; she is not a cartoon character.

I’ll say it, there is also something of the saintly in Cécile, in the Catholic sense of the word, that is, something of someone who might be consciously conducting herself as one who on the path of sainthood, the imitatio christi. Sainthood is a path that many have aspired to, but few have been recognized for over the centuries.  As post or post-post-modern peoples, we have almost completely forgotten, or now look down with contempt upon, the notion that for a thousand years in the west that the path of sainthood was something that people knew about, cared about, and aspired to – it was a life choice, for some a vocation.  There is a strong case to be made that Cécile was such a person, not a saint maybe, but someone who consciously practiced that way of being.  No one ever said it was easy being, or being around a saint.  We know that she knows Saint Paul well; we now know that she practiced self-effacement and self-denial to an almost pathologically high level – almost.  As an aside, you can tell when the self-denial and ‘mortifications’ become pathological – when it stops your progress.  All we really need to do now is pin a couple of miracles to Cécile’s name and the process of beatification can begin.  Maybe you can think of some.

As another aside, somehow when I first started transcribing the movie from the screen, some dyslexic neuron in my brain swapped out the character Cécile’s name with ‘Céline’ and it took me a while to notice.  I find it interesting that subconsciously my brain should decide to do this, Céline means ‘heaven’; while, in French the meaning for Cécile is: ‘dim sighted’.

We recenter our view more fully on Cécile, as Kuno comes down off of the step-ladder and approaches Cécile.


We see Kuno only from the waist down as he kneels at Cécile’s side, one hand hanging down loosely.

     Can I help you?

We see Cécile twitch slightly, and struggle up to her elbows, but is unable to stand.  Kuno continues to kneel there ineffectually.

Oh, God, not again.  Kuno letting us down once more.  When its really important to be decisive and effective, Kuno always seems to let us down.  Not good.  It’s pretty excruciating for me to watch a person left to languish in extremis like this with none of the people near by able to render any human care.  It’s probably a great way to amplify your audience’s reaction to the scene though.


We see Max and Kuno carrying the deathly ill Cécile out of the refectory doors on a stretcher.

We see that Our Neon Lady or Lourdes is watching in reflection, praying.

We follow Cécile as she is carried out past the pilgrims in the lobby and their varied reactions, uncovered, one hand clutching the rail of the stretcher, one hand resting on her headpiece lying in her lap.  The reality of Cécile is finally exposed to all.  It appears that very few knew.

We see Christine, visibly shaken, in the aftermath of Cécile’s passage.

We see Cécile disappear from our view, leaving a very deeply effected Christine for us to contemplate, as we hear the foot steps of Max and Kuno recede and the door open and close behind them.

This is the last we ever see of Cécile.  Christine in particular seems especially thoughtful, almost shaken.  Does she realize now that she just lost her most powerful ally?

The fact that Cécile was carries out on a stretcher uncovered, with no blanket, not even the men’s jackets to keep her warm, or her bare legs covered, is inexcusable.  This was an error so basic that I was deeply shocked that it could have been made.  Kuno completely dropped the ball here.  I could never look at Kuno the same way again; definitely not the right guy for our vulnerable Christine.  This would never have happened with Cécile in charge.  If a stretcher could have been fetched, a blanket could have been fetched, simple as that.  Somebody, or somebodies were not thinking.  There is an enormous and sad irony here that the only person in the group who really seemed capable of handling these situations properly was Cécile, and for hour of need there was no one there who could really care for her in the way she cared for her malades.

It’s at moments like these that I am reminded of the universalism of my youth.  I’m thinking back to M. Oliveti’s question: “If He is all-powerful and good, He could heal everyone, couldn’t He?” and Fr. Nigl’s reply: “He does.”  At the moment of their deaths, all are healed, all are perfected.  Entering into death, as we shed our personalities, all souls are re-conformed to the to the mysterious perfection of the one soul.


We see Christine in her bed, arms folded on her breast as usual.  The light of the moon streams in through the window and shows her in a soft, half-light.  We Christine’s breathing accentuated by the rise and fall of her arms.  We watch this view for a solid twenty seconds.

It has been a long night, like many others before, for Christine, but something changes – now.  “Rise – take up your bed – and walk.”  The emergent miracle has been initiated, it has been granted permission, and it has been given the required blood sacrifice.  Will the woman rise out of the dying girl?

We notice Christine’s hands soften slightly, the fingers start to relax and extend.  Her arms slowly start to fall to her side.

We see Christine raise her head and slowly sit up in bed.  She pauses for a moment to collect herself, then moves the covers out of the way, swings her legs over the side of the bed and stands ups, outlined in the moonlight.


We see Mme Carré lying in her bed, her head turned towards Christine, watching.

We see her sit up in bed and follow Christine with her eyes, as we hear Christine shuffle across the floor and into the bathroom.

I will try to be restrained an not over analyze this scene.

This was a lovely, lovely sequence, another one where a screen capture simply will not suffice.  It is also another one of those moments of the revelation of the invisible witness, in fact two in this case:  Mme Carré and Our Lady of Lourdes on the night stand is watching too.

Christine puts in her own earrings.                                                                    [© Coop 99 Films-2009]


We see Christina standing at the mirror in her bathroom from behind, but no reflection of her face, through the half open door.   She is brushing out her hair with a trace of awkwardness. 

We see that her blonde hair now, more golden and less straw-like, is full of body and falls straight down to her shoulders and ends in a little wave.  We hear a little click as she puts down her brush.  As Christine bends an ear to put in her earrings, we hear the singing of the  first birds of morning

Very lovely, very gentle.  It seems that the woman has emerged out of the girl.

This was also one of Mr. Gschlacht’s trademark, keyhole shots, graded washes of light framing the subject – very nice – also the shot from the rear, and almost nothing in reflection, very private, except the whole scene is being witnessed.  Some cinema buff out there, I’m sure, could give us the whole history of that particular trope in the comments section, why don’t you?


~ Atani

†Joseph Campbell, Grail Legends Lecture at the Ojai Foundation

‡Heraclitus Of Ephesus: The Fragments Of The Work Of Heraclitus Of Ephesus On Nature And Heracliti Ephesii Reliquiae, translated by G. T. W. Patrick and I. Bywater.

Issues and Conflicts
Implicit/Subtle/Archetypal – More Significant

  1. Polarity  vs  Unity
  2. Ambiguity  vs  Certainty
  3. Mystery  vs  Explanation
  4. Passivity  vs  Activity
  5. Paralysis  vs  Motion
  6. External  vs Internal
  7. Center  vs  Periphery
  8. Engagement  vs  Detachment
  9. Ritual  vs  Miracle
  10. Faith  vs  Doubt
  11. Mortality  vs  Immortality
  12. Kindness  vs  Coldness
  13. Sanctity  vs  Secular
  14. Contradiction  vs  Agreement
  15. Attraction  vs  Repulsion
  16. Consciousness  vs  Habit
  17. Sickness  vs  Health
  18. Life  vs  Death
  19. Loneliness  vs  Wanted
  20. Appropriate Behavior  vs  Inappropriate Behavior

Explicit/Gross/Material-Less Significant


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