There is something about French actor Vincent Lindon’s face which somehow manages to give any film he’s ever been involved in gravitas and urgency, no matter what the subject matter may be. Lindon, who most will remember from his award-winning turn in Stéphane Brizé’s 2015 Cannes hit The Measure of Man, manages yet another tour de force in Xavier Giannoli’s new film The Apparition in which he stars as a former war correspondent caught up in the middle of a religious investigation concerning a recent apparition of the Virgin Mary.
After years of reporting the news from war zones and putting his life at risk, Jacques Mayano (Lindon) is left in shock and deaf in one ear when a bomb blast in Iraq kills his best friend who also happens to be his photographer. Now back in Paris and attempting to make sense of his life once again, Jacques is surprised when a mysterious phone call leads him to the Vatican where he is called upon to help investigate a recent apparition of the Virgin Mary, which was witnessed by a teenage girl named Anna (Galatéa Bellugi) in a small French town.
Despite making it quite clear that he has no expertise on the subject matter, Jacques nonetheless finds himself recruited as the new member of an investigative team put together by the cardinal in the hope of establishing the authenticity of the supposed miracle. First handling the whole thing with the usual amount of journalistic pragmatism, Jacques soon starts to question his own preconceived opinions on religious matters, but is far more concerned for the teenager’s well being and what motivates the overzealous priests and other members of the clergy who have attached themselves to her story. Amongst the euphoria of thousands of aimless pilgrims who have descended on the small town, Jacques must find a way to get to the heart of the mystery surrounding the girl and her past.
Giannoli offers a surprisingly dense, slow-moving yet hugely compelling account which cleverly deals with ideas of faith versus a more pragmatic outlook. Lindon’s eternal hungdog expression, coupled with his silently agonising demeanour is further enhanced by his character’s apparent discomfort at having to interrogate the girl as though she was making the whole thing up. For her part, Galatéa Bellugi offers a measured and hugely believable performance as a teenager who refuses to falter despite having been prodded, interrogated and made to undergo arduous personality tests in the name of clearing her name of any wrong doing.
At the heart of the story, there lies a strong sense of doubt which hangs heavy on the minds of the protagonists, a sense of doubt which is both reinforced and dissipated with each new revelation. Built around a series of chapters which appear to hold a religious significance, The Apparition greatly benefits from its free-flowing narrative which is helped along by its naturalistic aesthetic and is further elevated by its excellent cast. Using deliberate ambiguity, the film present a much more subtle and a far more nuanced narrative than anyone would have bargained for, managing to be both gripping and highly cerebral in equal measures.
The Apparition is part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival Programme and will play on Friday, 29 June and Saturday, 30 June, before the UK release date of August 3.