Vincent Lindon is one of my favourite French actors. He’s always reminded me of Miley from Glenroe. In a country where we expect to find more clean-cut heroes, he has more the look of a character actor than a leading man with his lived-in face. You feel he’s been out digging fields all day, and yet he has great elegance and depth. (If you ever get a chance, see him in the achingly beautiful Mademoiselle Chambon.)
Here he plays Jacques Mayano, a journalist who’s traumatised by the recent death of a friend. As the film begins, he’s summoned to the Vatican to join a canonical team investigating the circumstances behind the alleged appearance of the Virgin Mary to an 18-year-old girl, Anna (Galatea Bellugi).
Anna is an orphan who’s spent most of her life in foster facilities prior to her apparition. After witnessing it, she’s become a novice nun.
Jacques doesn’t know why he’s been chosen to participate in the investigation since he’s lost his faith. But maybe this is precisely the reason. The other members are a priest, a theologian and a psychiatrist; they want an eclectic mix.
Jacques at first seems inconsistent as a character. He knows what ‘beatified’ means, for instance, but not ‘apparition’.
When Anna first meets him she’s suspicious of him and he of her. At one stage he tells her that her account of the apparition sounds ‘scripted’.
As time goes on, however, they become closer. Anna is undoubtedly devout but she seems to be hiding some trauma of her own. Jacques’ investigations throw up the fact that she screamed as she saw the vision. This doesn’t square with her story that Our Lady gave her a message of peace.
Jacques also faces opposition from Fr Borrodine (Patrick d’Assumçao) who feels the team are out to discredit Anna at any cost. Did she make it up as an attention-seeking gambit? A circus atmosphere pervades the proceedings at times. It starts to develop overtones of a money-making racket.
The film unwinds like a Russian doll while Jacques digs deeper into the character and history of Anna through the Holy Office archives. Every time he seems on the point of a revelation, something seems to stymie him. There’s always that missing part of the jigsaw.
L’Apparition asks more questions than it answers as it coils and uncoils into more and more cryptic areas. Why, for example, did Anna’s friend Meriem (Alicia Hava) leave the orphanage? Was her mother murdered? Did she become friends with her killer?
Director Xavier Giannoli keeps us on the edge of our seats in this beguiling film, but it has perhaps too many threads for comfort. It’s as much Jacques’ story as Anna’s in the final analysis.
The hardened war correspondent goes from the world of brutal fact to nebulous divinity, finally coming to realise that “souls have their own world”.