- Review by Alison Traynor
Xavier Giannoli’s L’Apparition is an inherently frustrating film. This sense of frustration derives from the unfortunate fact that it constantly dwells on the cusp of becoming a good piece of cinema, but never quite succeeds. It tells the story of Jacques (Vincent Lindon), a journalist haunted by his traumatic experiences reporting in Middle East. Jacques is asked by the Vatican to investigate the circumstances surrounding the alleged sightings of religious apparitions by Anna (Galatéa Bellugi), a troubled French teenager. This plot line at first appears promising, but the excessive length of the film means that it soon becomes protracted and tiresome. It is almost two and a half hours long and feels even longer, showing that it is in desperate need of better editing. The late introduction of the connected tale of Anna’s friend Mériem, who visits her mother’s murderer in prison before mysteriously vanishing at first dilutes the dullness of the plot, but soon develops into something that resembles a parody of an Agatha Christie fiction. The conclusion of this mystery is also entirely unbelievable and renders this element of the plot nonsensical.
L’Apparition treads a thin line between profundity and pointlessness, and it is unfortunate that overall it tends to lean towards the latter when it has so much potential to encompass the former. It touches on some truly important and compelling themes, such as the power of religious faith, religious corruption and the subjectivity of truth. These themes are never explored thoroughly enough to make them worthwhile however, with the focus of the film placed on much less engaging thematic elements. It is both self-important and self-conscious in its attempt to be overly ‘arthouse’ in style, which causes it to sink into the realm of pretension. In fact, it shares many characteristics with a person who attends social gatherings with the sole intention of pontificating about the philosophy of Nietzsche or something equally ostentatious - not due to any great love of the topic but simply for the sake of it. They, like this film, adore showing off their intelligence, yet everybody else is left wondering what their point actually is. Inevitably, there isn’t one. L’Apparition just loves to ask big questions. While it is understandable that it cannot provide definitive answers to these questions, it fails to sustain any sort of meaningful discussion of them, leaving the viewer to wonder why on earth they were brought up in the first place.
That is not to say that L’Apparition does not have any redeeming features. In general, the acting is of a very high calibre, with Bellugi proving to be a standout talent. Anna is not intended to be fully understood by viewers which makes it a difficult role, yet she plays her exceedingly well with an impressive emotional range. She simultaneously presents Anna as a complicated, perplexing enigma and an understandably damaged young girl who demands empathy from her audience. Likewise, Lindon excels in his role of Jacques, and the relationship between these two characters is made fascinating by the actors, full of subtle nuances that adds vitality to something that could easily have been glossed over as an unimportant aspect of the film. There is also some wonderful cinematography, with the landscapes of both France and the Middle East being showcased beautifully, and the darkness of Anna’s disturbed world being reflected effectively in her surroundings through the lighting and skilful camerawork. Nevertheless, these positive elements are outweighed by the film’s various flaws and we are left with a work that is tainted by superfluity and tedium.