A troubled college student in 1970s Germany is subjected to an exorcism in taut, F/X-free drama “Requeim.” Built around an extraordinary, lacerating, Silver Bear-winning leading perf by stage actress Sandra Hueller, this stunningly played story of faith vs. family, sold as a character piece rather than the genre thrill ride it most definitely isn’t, could segue to arthouses following strong word of mouth.
Though she has suffered for years from what’s been diagnosed as epilepsy, Michaela Klinger (Hueller) is determined to study education at the university. With the blessings of father Burghart (Karl Klingler) and in spite the of disapproval of mother Marianne (Imogen Kogge), she takes up residence in a dormitory and hits the books.
Nothing in her devoutly Catholic background has prepared her for the freedoms or pressures of school. In short order she befriends moody but loyal Hanna (Anna Blomeier), and begins a hesitant yet seemingly sincere relationship with chemistry student Stefan (Nicholas Reinke).
It’s only when she goes off her meds that trouble starts. She claims to hear voices and see things, and is instructed by these apparitions not to touch her rosary or a crucifix. Her parents and friends want to support her, but seem either helpless or dismissive; even kindly Father Landauer (Walter Schmidinger) scoffs at the idea there could be demons in her head.
Coming to believe she’s being made to suffer in the manner of a favorite saint, she’s at first shocked, then violently angry when earnest young pastor Borchert (Jens Harzer) organizes a living-room exorcism.
Helmer Hans-Christian Schmid has excelled in drawing strong perfs from young thesps in such films as “23” and “Crazy.” Good as those are, “Requiem” resonates with deeper, more complex layers of meaning. Far more interested in the subtle real-world causes of Michaela’s breakdown than any spiritual or supernatural presence, Schmid, who does not believe in demonic possession, along with scripter Bernd Lange, make no judgments about her condition; she could be working too hard to please her family or, perhaps, she could be possessed by the devil.
Relying on nothing beyond raw emotion and physical contortions, Heuller’s profoundly troubled Michaela, with her elastic features and increasingly helpless agitation, announces the actress as a major new talent. Other perfs are pro, led by Klaussner and Kogge as parents with widely differing methods for coping with an ill child.
Tech package is quietly rich, with Bogumil Godfrejow’s widescreen lensing and Christian M. Goldbeck’s unobtrusive production design lending a tangible docu air to proceedings.
As with Schmid’s previous film, hailed ensembler “Distant Lights,” there’s no music score. With their organ-heavy hard rock, Deep Purple’s “Anthem,” Amon Duul’s “Paramechanical World” and a few other period tunes create a mood at once secularly chilling and religiously resonant. Pic is the first production from Schmid’s new 23/5 shingle and opens domestically in March.
Story was inspired by the same 1976 events dramatized in the recent “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”