Cinematic Releases: The Apparition (2018) Reviewed

In his new film, French director Xavier Gianoli, ventures into a territory that mixes investigative reporting with religious ambiguity. The result is a thriller that keeps holding on to its secrets right up to its inconclusive ending. Jaques Mayano (Vincent Lindon) is an investigative reporter suffering from PTSD, after an incident in the Middle East, killed his photographer colleague and left him with acute hearing problems. The experience has made him distance himself from his wife and completely withdraw from society.

As he holes up in his house covering his windows with cardboard, a bishop in Rome unexpectedly contacts him. He is being summoned to join a canonical investigation that will determine the veracity (or lack of it) of an “apparition”, the name used for (so-called) miraculous sightings.

The claim is of a vision of the Virgin Mary by a sixteen-year-old girl, Anna (Galatéa Bellugi) who is now a novice in a country convent. The “miracle” turns into a phenomenon, as the small town is flocked by the faithful and the local church becomes a selling point for “Anna” paraphernalia.

Overly protected by Father Borrodine (Patrick d’Assumcao), the parish priest, on one hand, and astutely transformed into a commercial product by Anton Meyer (Anatole Taubman), Anna, acts the perfect vision of holiness, down to breaking down at the sight of all the merchandise with her image, acknowledging it represents a corruption of what her experience really means.

To Jaques, under all her apparent virginal sanctity, Anna is just an enigma, which he is determined to solve. With this scenario, Gianoli posits important themes. One, is a cynical and unflattering view of the church and (some of) its representatives as opportunistic vultures, ready to take advantage of any opportunity (in this case Anna and her vision), in order to gain profit and to advance their own interests. Another, is the limitless power of faith, and the extremes it can push people towards to, as they are blinded by their own conviction in what they believe.

The synthesis being that people want to believe, and they will latch onto any nugget that can possibly confirm their belief, no matter how improbable or outright impossible it actually is; and there will always be someone ready to profit out of this willingness in people to surrender themselves to the “mystery” that will save their souls. In the end, it is just a dismal case of the blind leading the blind.

Gianoli and director of photography, Eric Gautier open the film with a, very down to Earth, documentary style of shooting that portrays the small town and all that happens around Anna in a very realistic light. As the mystery deepens, the view gradually shifts, and we are offered beatific chiaroscuros that capture glimpses of the divine, revealing that we are entering a new territory, beyond “truth”.

In one of the high points of the film, Gianoli and Gautier manage to create a specific and precise reinterpretation of Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, conveying perfect narrative meaning through images and ultimately granting, in hindsight, a more cohesive conclusion.

Though overlong, The Apparition is an interesting journey into the inscrutability of faith, martyrdom and the choice to believe in the mystery.

Manuel Ríos Sarabia