The opening sequence to Dietrich Brüggemann’s Stations of the Cross initially appears as being almost light, as we witness a priest preaching an intransigent, fundamental strand of Catholicism to group of impressionable children a week before their confirmation. With relatively light-hearted dialogue implemented, it’s a scene that though appearing harmless on the surface, sets the precedence for what is a dark and twisted tale. It’s a sequence we refer to throughout the rest of this picture, as the somewhat amusing opening soon becomes a distant memory as we head into disturbing territory, as the impact of this initial indoctrination proves to be considerably detrimental.

One of the young children sitting around the table during the opening scene, is the 14 year old Maria (Lea van Acken), who devoutly pledges her life to Jesus, determined to make substantial sacrifices to guarantee her a place in heaven. Teased at school, and struggling with a difficult relationship with her uncompromising mother (Franziska Weisz), when Maria finds herself developing feelings towards her classmate Christian (Moritz Knapp), she becomes so angry with herself for disobeying God and committing internal sin, that she obsesses over redemption, to a rather disquieting extent.

Though naturally questionable of religion, and how destructive and harmful such messianic beliefs can be when taken too literally, Brüggemann never ridicules those with faith, instead offering a naturalistic observation into the world, particularly where susceptible children are concerned. There are undoubtedly people out there just like the mother, the priest, and even Maria, for instance. That’s not to say this isn’t a heightened take on reality, suitably enhanced for cinematic effect.

It’s a distinctively unique piece of filmmaking too, set across 14 separate chapters, with each individual section all shot in just one, single take, while the majority are set within a static frame. As a result, each has such a fluency to them, and given the fact they’re broken up into bite-size segments, the approach never feels overbearing. Van Acken is simply wonderful in the leading role, with a truly exceptional turn in her debut feature film. She captures that internal confliction of emotions so astutely, making for a hugely emotive performance that you fully invest in.

There are legitimate comparisons to Ulrich Seidl’s recent Paradise trilogy, particularly the sophomore ‘Faith’ endeavour, in how we explore contradiction from those supposedly absolved of sin. Brüggemann’s poignant message of the necessity and inevitability of imperfection is a profound one, suggesting that we should embrace our flaws. It’s somewhat pertinent in this instance too, as though this title is flawed itself, there’s enough ingenuity and impressive artistry on show to fully warrant its deserved degree of critical acclaim.