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The Prayer (La Prière)

French director examines faith and devotion as the cure for drug addiction in a profoundly humanistic film, while also avoiding provocative statements - live from Berlinale

QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM BERLIN

Faith can save and heal. The road towards healing and salvation is bumpy, and unequivocal doctrine is no panacea. Cédric Kahn’s latest movie The Prayer is neither a religious nor an anti-Catholic film. Instead it’s a moving portrayal of a 22-year-old rescued from heroin addiction, those who helped him, and all the obstacles he encounters on his way.

Thomas (Anthony Bajon) arrives in a religious rehab community of young men living in a mountain in the idyllic French Alps, somewhere near Grenoble. His life is far less beautiful and pacific than the landscape. His forehead has a fresh scar, and he’s facing an uphill struggle against his past. Plus he has no family to support him. His psychological scars are also visible. He has seizures and anger management problems. But he eventually finds solace amongst the males who are there in order to fight their own chemical demons. They support each other through companionship, friendship, work and a little entertainment (such as singing and playing the guitar). And a lot of prayer.

The Bible becomes one of his best friends. He memorises the psalms and the takes the holy book on a hiking trip on the mountains, where he has en epiphany. But he also encounters abuse. For Mother Myriam (played by Fassbinder’s veteran Hannah Schygulla), faith is contingent on suffering, plus a little twist of violence. In addition, there is a tragic and unexpected death, and Thomas finds a very unorthodox way of dealing with the pain of bereavement. But this is not Peter Mullen’s The Magdalene Sisters (2002). The Catholic Church here, while conspicuous, is not entirely corrupt and oppressive.

This is a movie that neither makes judgements nor provides easy answers. It’s not a provocative film, but instead a reflective one. Instead its complexity is in the humanistic portrayal of the round characters, and the extremely moving performances. Bajon is outstanding, and he could easily win the Golden Bear for Best Actor. He morphs from a completely dysfunctional soul into a credible and viable young adult, capable of loving and making firm commitments. The testimonials of those who overcame drug use are also very powerful, and I wonder whether former patients were used.

The Prayer is showing at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, in the event’s Official Competition


By Victor Fraga - 18-02-2018

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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