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Review: Come for the miracles, stay for the humanity, in ‘Lourdes’ documentary

A crowd gathers in France in the documentary “Lourdes”
“Lourdes” observes the people, many fragile but hopeful, who make the pilgrimage to the Catholic sanctuary city of Lourdes, France, in search of healing.
(Distrib Films US)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

Few external actions speak more to humanity’s internal majesty than the pilgrimage, and in the suffering, searching millions who journey each year to the Catholic sanctuary city of Lourdes in France, one could say, lies a broken-winged migration of sorts. That distinctively spiritual space is what filmmakers Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai strive to evoke, and generally do, in their gently observed documentary, “Lourdes.”

The souls on view are stricken ones, indeed, ready for the healing swirl of devotion, tourism and ritual in a modest town transformed in 1858 by apparitions of the Virgin Mary. A soft-spoken father in military uniform brings his open-faced 8-year-old son, their focus being the 2-year-old back home, severely ill and not expected to live. Another dad hopes his withdrawn 14-year-old daughter, harassed at school for a physiological condition, finds newfound strength from a site made holy by a teenage peasant’s visions.

We also meet a middle-aged trans prostitute at an emotional crossroads after years of hardship, eager for a sign that life will get better, and a man in the last throes of ALS, yet newly reconnected with an “astonishing inner peace,” his voiceover informs. We hear other characters, too, in prayer-like narration that, in respites from the town’s hubbub, become the most achingly personal of thought bubbles.

Threaded through are vérité scenes showing the humane textures of a spiritually energized city, from the nurses and volunteers tending to the most infirm visitors, to the Romany pilgrims drawn to the fellowship often missing from interactions outside their community.

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Though inspired by a show of faith Roman Catholic at its core, “Lourdes” is defined less by sightseeing religiosity (even as the basilica, the grotto, the baths, and torchlight processions are well represented) than by an interest in humans as an innately lost and sad, yet ineffably questing and empathetic tribe. When the 8-year-old boy shifts his attention from an outdoor service to take the knotted hand of a woman in a wheelchair, the gesture feels both simple and miraculous, the reward of a pilgrimage in intertwined miniature.

'Lourdes'

In French with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

Playing: Starts July 2, Laemmle Royal, West L.A.; also available on Laemmle Virtual Cinema


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