REQUIEM – Suffocating in 1970s’ must and tapestry

May 21, 2008 at 10:38 pm | Posted in Film | 8 Comments
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[This entry is part of Raccoon's Production Design Blog-A-Thon, which began on May 25 and runs through May 25th. Please consider joining us with your own post on the topic.]

Exorcisms continue to fascinate our enlightened age. Even though in real life, we have replaced our demons by terrorists, immigrants or feminists – whatever lends itself to project ‘otherness’ on it -, it seems as if many people enjoy the sight of gooey, exploding bodies of the kind we were able to witness in the 1973 classic The Exorcist.

2005 and 2006 saw the release of two films dedicated to the same tragic case of contemporary exorcism: In 1976 in Bavaria, Anneliese Michel died from hunger, following a months longs exorcism that was performed on her by two catholic priest, at the request and with the consent of her family.* Scott Derrickson’s the The Exorcism of Emily Rose (which I haven’t seen, but have read up upon and then wasn’t keen to watch) is said to be classic Hollywood fare, where the question whether the female lead character is indeed obsessed or just mentally ill is never raised – the demons that allegedly possessed her are even allowed to find incarnation as coherent characters.

Requiem Movie 2006

Hans-Christian Schmid’s Requiem, by comparison, is a quiet little film that, almost like a documentary, traces the story of Michaela Klinger (this film’s Anneliese Michel) and her attempts to find a place for herself in life when she leaves home for the first time to study theology, and how the mental illness she’s been battling catches up with her, ruining her frail friendships and, with much much aid from her pious family, eventually her health and ends her life.

Requiem does not need any goo or artificial bodily fluids: The entire film is tinted with the patina that we associate with 1970s’ photographs – probably because this is indeed the colour of these photographs, or probably because our media experience has taught us to map aesthetics and memory that way. Production designer Christian M. Goldbeck, who also collaborated with Schmid on Lichter/Distant lights and with Hans Weingartner on the ‘smash hit’ Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei/The Edukators, sets the scene for a suffocating trip into the 1970s where the brownish colour of wall-to-wall carpeting seems to smother all of Michaela’s hopes and ambitions.

The only lights that ever seem to enter her world are the pilgrim’s offertory candles – set against the religious backdrop of her family, these lights are no beacon of hope. The brown colours and faded wallpapers of her family home are replaced only by the cork pin-board and fabric wallpaper of a little room in a student dormitory – her plans to escape, as soon becomes manifest, are futile.

The breakfast room of a cheap hotel, where the family stops on one of their pilgrimages (which you can see in this trailer below at minute 1:13-1:16) is the place where her hopes are finally shattered – trapped between cumbersome furniture, Michaela has another psychotic episode; this happening exactly on a pilgrimage, and under they eyes of convinced catholics, seals her doom.

The film hardly ever switches to a brighter colour pattern – even in Michaela’s brief phase of happiness, where she goes to bars and falls in love to the tunes of 1970s’ psychedelic rock, the colours remain pasty, liveless, washed-out. Once she is brought back home, the musty brownish tapestry and furnitures reappear, lock her inside, until her death. ‘Requiem’, instead of going down the splatter path, shows the real horrors of traditional family structures in a part of Bavaria where enlightenment, sexual liberation or the opening of mental wards never took place.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the DVD here, but I tried to find as many screenshots as possible on the web and added some that I took from the trailer. A little more info can also be found on the film’s official website. (images after the jump if you’re coming through my blog homepage)

Requiem

Requiem

Requiem

Requiem

Requiem

Requiem

Requiem

Requiem

Requiem

*) By the way, the difference between the German and the English Wikipedia pages puts me rather off ease: While the German site attempts a balancing of facts, the one in English presents blatant rubbish such as the number of demons she was said to be possessed by on the opening line: …a woman “who was said to be possessed by six or more demons and subsequently underwent an exorcism.” The opener should rather read: a woman “who was killed by the superstition and abuse of her deeply religious family”, if you ask me.

8 Comments »

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  1. Thanks Anaj! A very interesting-looking film indeed, and the production design does seem to invoke a certain dread.

  2. This is a really great post. Is the washed out patina in which we view the family a particularly apt modern way to view tragedy? Seems the right tone for deep depression–no flash, not melodramatic, and, perhaps what’s best, indicative of the drained exhaustion that claims lives slowly, variously.

    I very much want to see this film. Thank you for the incisive introduction.

  3. Anaj – This was one of the best films I saw at the 2006 Chicago International Film Festival. I agree that the understatedness of the patina helped this film, but perhaps in a way slightly different from what you suggest. I thought the mutedness not only showed the drained exhaustion (great comment Skunkcabbage!) but also allowed us to see this girl clearly. Was she really possessed or simply a girl tortured by a failure to break ties from her family and religious upbringing? The film doesn’t come out and say the girl was delusional. Her faith was real, that much was clear from the pilgrimage sequences. I liked the idea that I was watching her as others around her were, trying to understand what was happening to her. I could see her from modern eyes, but also through the eyes of the faithful.

    BTW, opening the mental wards in the U.S. didn’t do a lot of people any favors – many were left homeless and without their medication. It was a well-intentioned disaster.

    Thanks for this thoughtful post!

  4. I probably need to watch the movie again, but the film in my view makes a clear statement that she was not possessed. On the other hand, being faithful and being mentally ill, of course, does not exclude each other – I never meant to say she was not depicted as faithful. But maybe the film is read different here in Germany/Austria than it is read in the US – over here, it is common sense that believing in the devil is superstitious and that an exorcism, as a result, is always wrong, as there could never possibly be a demon living inside a person (Requiem is a German film, btw). From that viewpoint, it is just even more tragic that Michaela, due to the way she was brought up, believed herself that she was possessed. Even is she believed is, it doesn’t mean that she was and the film never confirms or suggests the existence of a demon in the reality of the film – which is the important difference to The Excorcism of Emily Rose.

    By “opening of the mental wards” I didn’t mean to eject people from the mental wards and force them to look after themselves. (I didn’t know about this US American approach), but to open the wards up, to not lock people away forever and hide them from the public, but to find ways in between, and also to let people from the outside world come in.

  5. Anaj – Thanks for giving me the German perspective. I personally don’t believe in possession, but there are many people in the U.S. and other places who do. What I wanted to suggest was that I appreciated being able to see it through her eyes and those of her parents, through their beliefs. I understand that with the German attitude today, you’d see this much differently. And thanks for clarifying your comment about mental wards.

    This is what I love about cross-cultural exchanges. It’s so interesting to see how one society or the other would view a movie like “Requieum.” Thanks again. This was a great post.

  6. where can i watch this film online?? I cant find it in any video stores. This girls intrests the crap out of me and scares the crap out of me at the same time. She probably was possessed. THINK about it. How can anyone that weighs 68 pounds throw temper tantrums like that?? Or even have the strength to continue Screaming these vicious screams and speak a fluent language starved to death. A person that eats daily feels famished by noon. (cant really think). It’s important for young kids to eat breakfast to prepare for a successful day of learning. There was an evil high force that took over her soul and God may have chosen this especialy for Germany because they were atheists and I think Hitler had unfinshed businesses to hurt, shock and tourment a very special beautiful girl. I dont think Hitler possessed her. Becuase the Devil possessed Hitlers Mind. It was the devil and you either want to believe it or don’t. Just try screaming in the deepest scariest voice you can possibaly scream and do it for about 10 minutes. I gaurentee you will lose your voice and have a very sore throat. But do it when you have starved your self for a day. There is no way she could have acted like this starving. Her vocal cords could not have continued on like that for years and all day. You tear your own limbs apart and drink your own piss? Could you bust up your own teeth? Can you eat spiders and your own shit? Could your body produce hellish smells for the fun it? I dont Know? But this girl either had every psycho imbalance known to man or you can embrace this and be greatful that God allowed this to happen for more believers to become saved. She sounded quite unhuman!!!!!

    • I don’t think you can rent it, but you can buy the DVD.

  7. GOD SHOWED US WHAT HELL IS LIKE ON EARTH. And proved it through a young girl. I she gave up her youth boys, partying, friends, children a good life God would have blessed with. But she made a sacrafice for God because she knew God and God knew her. i am not a big religous freak but i do have faith and Have Known God before. i believe she was tormented for more people to turn to God so we may live with God and he will indeed prepare a place for all is in heaven. Its a gift and not a reward so be greatful and try not to be so selfish. Its good to be educated before your death. Everyone dies and if you chose to know god even in your own way i think you’ll avoid hell even if you have not established a religon or church. God is so much better then you guessed. We should give him a little more credit through Annaleisa’s Life and her longtime suffering. I dont think the devil chose her God chose her. So with that said instead of blaiming her for being a phyco, scitzoprehrnic, eplictic, scary sreaming freak. I thought I would give a spirttual veiw on this documentry film.


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