Christine (Sylvie Testud) is paralysed from the neck down due to her multiple sclerosis, and as a result does not get to go out and mingle with the world at large as much as she would like. She is entirely reliant on other people, and needs someone to feed her and push her wheelchair among other things if she wants to get through the day, so she longs for the time when she could be cured and begin to live her life again. The doctors have told her this is next to impossible, so she has to content herself with going on religious pilgrimages if she wants to leave the house these days...
Neither a cheerleading, beatific support of the Catholic Church nor a cynical demolition of the power of faith, Lourdes was an ambiguous drama which took a near-documentary approach to the idea of miracles in the world. Christine doesn't have high hopes for her trip to the holy site, as she isn't hugely pious for a start, but writer and director Jessica Hausner appeared to be wishing to teach her a lesson, not in a stern manner but give her something to think about and whether she truly deserved the way that events pan out. It's not great surprise to say that the film drew from real life in that there really were those who visited Lourdes who recovered from their afflictions.
Then again, it was also true that such recoveries rarely last and for the overwhelming percentage of the disabled who found their conditions much improved thanks to a bathe in the waters, the outlook was not so sunny and they reverted back to their previous state. Thus the Church do not recognise those occurrences as true miracles, and the reason behind such temporary relief is much debated. If nothing else, watching this film gave you quite some insight into the practices of Lourdes where this was made, and what you could expect should you decide to visit there, the answer to that resembling a holiday camp run with near military precision by the staff of nurses and nuns.
A holiday camp with a significantly Christian theme, that was, but the intention was to leave the visitors feeling improved in spirit if not necessarily in body, and that comes across strongly in Hausner's rather cold gaze at what happened to one such individual who benefited physically. We meet others along the way, including an elderly woman who shares a room with Christine and takes it upon herself to look after her as much as possible, suggesting that the disadvantaged serve a purpose: to make those unafflicted feel better when they help them out, not something everyone who watched the film would go along with. At least the old lady does a better job than the actual nurse assigned to Christine.
She is Maria (Léa Seydoux), a flighty sort who has her eye on an older man, and sums up the frustrations of her charge, for if Christine was able-bodied she would he happy to try romancing him herself, and as we see later, he would be happy of the attention. Considering she is in a wheelchair, the chances of that are slim, and you could ponder whether Hausner was being realistic about the opportunities those like her protagonist enjoyed, or rather didn't enjoy, or whether she was being rather cruel. The environment we see is weirdly heartless for all the claims to charity, shuttling the pilgirms around like cattle, and leaving them to take away their own conclusions, however religious they may be. But if there is a God looking down on this lot, the old adage that he moves in mysterious ways might not be enough for this work, and the sense that the essential unknowable quality of the deity is not good enough predominates; then there's the thought that He doesn't exist at all - as I say, cruel, if thought-provoking.