The Apparition

 

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An unusual and striking drama but one that fails to realise its full potential.

 
Apparition, The

Vincent Lindon

 

The French filmmaker Xavier Giannoli now offers his seventh feature as director and once again with established collaborators he also provides the screenplay. But the character of this new work is unexpected coming as it does from a man who, judging by his previous films shown here (2006’s Gérard Depardieu vehicle The Singer and his 2015 variation on the Florence Foster Jenkins story, Marguerite), likes to give his audience an entertainment. The Apparition will surprise too anybody who, being English, treats the title as one suggesting a ghost story. For us, if not necessarily for the French, The Vision would have given a clearer indication of what is in store, for what we have here is a film distinctly serious in tone that is built around the procedures of the Catholic Church when investigating candidates for sainthood.

 

At the centre of The Apparition is the significant casting in the lead role of that least showy of leading film stars, Vincent Lindon. Here he plays a former war reporter, Jacques Mayano, who is not a believer but is called on by the Vatican to lead an investigation into the question of whether or not a young novice, Anna (Galatéa Bellugi), who claims to have seen visions of the Virgin Mary and who is already a venerated figure in France, is worthy of official recognition as a saint. Jacques and his team have to enquire not only into the validity of Anna’s claims but into her history and character, an extensive process that leads them in surprising directions.

 

There is none of the Catholic austerity that we associate with the films of Robert Bresson, but there is a respect for the subject and for the procedures that give weight to The Apparition. The whole tone is indicative of something more than a drama designed to please and, in contrast to Jessica Hausner’s Lourdes (2009) which always somehow suggested a pre-judged opposition to religion, Giannoli’s film gains from seeming more open-minded: even if Anna should prove to be a fraud, one such case would not deny the existence of God and, even if she is the real thing, one can still view her as somebody whose life has been subsumed by her iconic status.

 

The unhurried pace does not lose dramatic force thanks to Lindon’s ability to play with compelling naturalism while Galatéa Bellugi finds the right ambiguity to keep us unsure about Anna and her claims. All of this makes for a good film but one that ultimately ties itself into rather too many knots. Told in chapters (six as out turns out), The Apparition takes all of 144 minutes to unfold. However, the weakness lies less in the length as such but in the elaborate details of the plot which by the close seem to overwhelm the film. It might function better on a second viewing, but first time around its undoubted quality seems to ebb away as we work overtime to put the pieces together. Ultimately, the plot’s intricacies distract.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Vincent Lindon, Galatéa Bellugi, Patrick d’Assumçao, Anatole Taubman, Elina Löwensohn, Claude Lévèque, Gérard Dessalles, Bruno Georis, Alicia Hava, Candice Bouchet.

 

Dir Xavier Giannoli, Pro Olivier Dubosc, Screenplay Xavier Giannoli with Jacques Fieschi and Maria Romano, Ph Eric Gautier, Pro Des Riton Dupire-Clément, Ed Cyril Nakache, Costumes Isabelle Pannetier.

 

Curiosa Films/Gabriel/Proximus/La Cinéfacture/Memento Film Production-MUBI.
144 mins. France. 2018. Rel: 3 August 2018. Cert. 12A.