A riveting central performance by the young Lea van Acken is the foundation of Stations of the Cross, a German film that tracks fourteen key moments in the life of a young girl. Ostensibly about the dangers of religious extremism it is as much about the damage done to children by bullying parents.
Maria (van Acken) is a waif-like child being brought up in a strict Catholic sect. Her understanding of life and religion is driven by her mother’s beliefs, which include a hatred not just of pop music, but also gospel singing. Maria’s natural vivacity is constantly squashed by the bullying mother, who criticises and punishes her daughter excessively.
Writer/director Dietrich Bruggemann has chosen to shoot Stations of the Cross in fourteen long takes, the camera sitting unmoving and observing what takes place. Movement is introduced by setting one scene in a moving car and another in a busy school gym. These lengthy shots are well composed and demonstrate it is possible for filmmakers to retain visual interest without wild editing and car-chase cutting. The static camera on a tripod technique echoes early moviemaking and quietly suggests that the subject is deeply old fashioned.
With a sincerely-held, though deeply twisted view of Christianity and life, Maria soon believes that her destiny is different to other people’s. Convinced this is also God’s view she embarks on a journey that tenuously reflects the stations of the cross, the Catholic markers of Jesus’ journey to his death.
The setting might be religious but the effects of a bullying parent enforcing their worldview on a child can apply in any area of life. The events of Maria’s life are engrossing though painful to watch. The film is 107 minutes long making each scene around seven minutes long. This piles pressure on the young actors and they pull off a blinder.