2018, NR, 144 min. Directed by Xavier Giannoli. Starring Vincent Lindon, Galatéa Bellugi, Patrick d'Assumçao, Anatole Taubman, Elina Löwensohn.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Sept. 14, 2018
Can faith and evidence coexist? That's an age-old question, and one that The Apparition, the latest from French director Giannoli, broaches without ever truly resolving.
Not that faith is in great supply when it comes to Jacques (veteran actor Lindon, gray-faced and distant). A combat photojournalist, he's out for the count with tinnitus and PTSD after an explosion that was a near miss for him, but a fatal blow for his close colleague. Physically incapable of returning to frontline work, and emotionally distanced from his ever-more-concerned wife, he accepts an unlikely job offer. The Vatican wants him to join a team being dispatched to a small mountain village, where a young woman named Anna (Bellugi) claims that she has seen a vision of the Virgin Mary. Of course the church must look into it – after all, if verified, it could be the first step toward sainthood for Anna – and the Holy See trusts the pragmatic Lindon to rule out everything other than the miraculous.
This sounds like the setup for a C-grade ecumenical horror, but there's an ocean of difference between Lindon's methodical investigator, and Demián Bichir's two-fisted miracle hunter in The Nun. After all, barring a repeat appearance, it's impossible to know whether Anna really saw anything or not, so it's his job to discern everything else that could be happening. His pilgrim's progress is less toward a reawakened devotion, and more a saddening attempt to extract Anna – at first transcendent, but increasingly translucent – as she sacrifices herself to the ideal of being a martyr.
Giannoli's script delicately subverts the journalistic mystery thriller by making Jacques the dog ever more likely to catch the car, without ever asking himself what happens next. His methodical work – into which Anna sporadically interjects herself, by turns informing and disrupting the process – is best when it is a secondary concern. There is a mystery to be solved, but The Apparition is most incisive in how the clergy reacts to his mission; the papacy gives him seemingly unlimited resources, but seems disinterested in any real conclusions; while the local priests (most especially d'Assumçao as the overly-protective Père Borrodine) fear he will steal their miracle from them.
The Apparition undoubtedly has timely points to make about the survival of medieval beliefs in a post-Enlightenment world, but sadly does not tell them in a timely fashion. A lackluster pace, lengthened by a sudden globetrotting coda, leads to a somewhat indecisive conclusion.