BERLIN Films at the extremes of the cinema agenda, one a German-made look at an adolescent girl's tortured life in a strict Catholic family, the other director Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac", highlighted day four of the Berlin film festival on Sunday.
Von Trier's film starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and an extended list of movie world notables as her sexual partners, drew long queues to cinemas, even though it is being shown out of competition.
The pairing of the Danish director's steamy opus with the German-made "Kreuzweg" ("Stations of the Cross") about a Catholic family bringing up their daughter in a strict religious environment, made for an odd juxtaposition, but one the film's director, Dietrich Bruggemann, seemed to relish.
"Our religion is cinema and this is the cathedral and that's what you do on Sunday. first you go to church service and then you have some fun," Bruggemann said at a post-screening press conference.
"Fun" would certainly not be a word for Bruggemann's harrowing film which shows a charming, pretty and bright young girl's descent into self-loathing, self-doubt and eventually anorexia in a deeply religious German Roman Catholic family.
She is torn between the teachings of her priest, played by Florian Stetter, who at catechism class tells teenagers that rock and soul music are instruments of Satan and that "impurity is the major sin of our time", and the attentions of a boy who invites her to choir practice in a more liberal parish.
Maria, played by first time actress Lea van Acken, is attracted to the boy, but also thinks music might help her autistic brother, who has yet to speak a word at the age of four, to come out of his isolation.
Her stern and fanatical mother, played with Cruella de Vil panache by Franziska Weiss, forbids it, even if most of the music is Bach, because some of it is soul and gospel.
The confrontation between Maria, who is ostracised at her local school for her extreme religious views, and her domineering mother escalates, with devastating consequences.
Bruggemann said he and his sister Anna, who wrote the screenplay with him, were raised as Catholics and while their family was not radical, he had come to know that extreme versions existed, not just in Germany but elsewhere.
"If you go to the States all you hear is religion and preaching," Bruggemann told a news conference. "The question was what happens if ideology takes first place?"
He said that because Catholicism was based on a system of religious rationalism, "it is very well suited to hammer away at adolescence and drown the baby with the bath water".
The film follows the stations of the cross, with Maria cast in the role of a female Jesus, and for the most part the camera stays still throughout each scene, leading to long passages for the actors and actresses to play without muffing their lines.
Stetter, who also is appearing as the German 18th-century poet Friedrich Schiller in another festival film, said that at first he had thought the idea of doing 18 pages of text in one take was crazy but in the end it had made sense.
"The challenge was excruciating, but each scene was a little bit like a theatre stage and we could act within that," he said.
"Stations of the Cross" is one of four German-made films among 20 competing for the best picture award to be given out next Saturday.
(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Stephen Powell)
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