For those who thought last fall's Hollywood horror-thriller "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" was the last you'd hear of that satanically possessed coed, you were wrong. It's the Germans' turn to have a say, and their telling, the well-acted and sober-minded "Requiem " is a lot better.
Directed by Hans-Christian Schmid , "Requiem" recounts events similar to those in the American movie (both claim to be based on an actual case). Here, an intelligent young woman named Michaela Klinger (Sandra Hüller ) leaves her devoutly Catholic family and provincial small town in the 1970s for college in a bigger city.
She's had serious mental and physical troubles (breakdowns and seizures) that cost her large chunks of time for recovery. Now with the secret support of her father -- her mother vehemently disapproves -- Michaela is excited to savor the fruits of university life.
There she meets a guy (Nicholas Reinke ) and befriends a brash free thinker named Hanna (Anna Blomeier ). When Hanna hears her new friend confess to hearing voices, she suggests that Michaela see a shrink.
After a disturbing encounter with a rosary she can't bring herself to grip, Michaela pours out her heart to her elderly priest, whom the news turns hysterical. Soon religious reinforcement arrives in the form of a young clergyman who concludes that an exorcism might be in order.
As overblown as this sounds, "Requiem" works so well because it's a serious and patiently made consideration: Is Michaela being visited by evil, or is she simply, critically epileptic? From a medical standpoint, epilepsy seems the right diagnosis.
As the exorcism approaches, "Requiem" deftly dramatizes three positions -- Hanna firmly on one side, Michaela's parents, particularly her forbidding mother and the men of the cloth on another, with the increasingly terrified Michaela stuck in the middle, desperate for any solution that grants her serenity.
The film is presented exclusively from her point of view. We experience both her anguish and her fleeting ecstasy, and Hüller, in her first film role, inhabits both extremes while connecting to a warm human core. It's a smart, powerful performance.
The hand-held photography, muted earth tones, and heroine in the throes of a religious struggle are immediately reminiscent of Lars von Trier's "Breaking the Waves." This is a far less ambitious movie, but a chilling one all the same. Working from an economical and intelligent script by Bernd Lange , Schmid directs his first feature with the easy conviction that eluded the makers of the preposterous "Emily Rose."
What a relief to encounter filmmakers with the decency to put across an exorcism without rubbing our noses in buckets of gobbledygook.