There’s the Jesus you know, and there’s the Jesus you discover in the faces of the Austrian Catholics at the center of controversial Austrian director Ulrich Seidl’s engrossing documentary about the power of prayer. Moving between works of nonfiction (Animal Love) and fiction (Dog Days), Seidl frequently turns a harsh, although not entirely unsympathetic, light on the human need for contact and the myriad disturbing relationships it can spawn. In Jesus, You Know, Seidl is granted a decidedly privileged view into the relationship between six believers and Jesus. With his camera often positioned between supplicant and altar, he films ordinary men and women speaking aloud to their savior as they expose their innermost doubts and fears in search of solace from the pain of their lives. A middle-aged woman prays for the strength to endure her husband’s increasing withdrawal into television; a teenage boy confesses that reading the Bible makes him feel “erotic”; a young woman wonders, “What’s it all about?” Occasionally, Seidl cuts away from these confessions and the various churches in which they unfold to brief but telling scenes from his subjects’ spartan domestic lives, but the film turns almost entirely on the striking shot-reverse-shot sequences that he constructs between parishioner and the icons they kneel before: a florid painting of Jesus holding out a bleeding heart, a pietà in fresco and, of course, Christ on the cross. Seidl’s stark, classical framing and the echo of churches great and small play havoc with the sense of intimacy that’s supposed to color such exchanges; we’re never allowed to forget our status as interlopers, even as these people in prayer seem to speak beyond us — and the camera — connecting with a presence at once intimate and immense. What shines through, however, is the sense of Jesus less as deity than as a really good listener.
Other recommended new releases: The Bad Sleep Well (DVD); Sam Peckinpah’s Legendary Westerns Collection: The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Ride the High Country, The Wild Bunch (DVD); The Short Films of David Lynch (DVD); Wayne Wang Box Set: Chan Is Missing, Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart (DVD). Also released this week: VHS-DVD: The Constant Gardener; Missing in America; Red Eye. DVD: Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse; The Chumscrubber; Crime Broker; Freedom Song; The Girl From Monday; Hands of a Murderer; Kamikaze Girls; The Magnificent Seven: Collectors Edition; Pinky; Rebus; Tony Takitani; Touch Me in the Morning; Transporter 2; Triple Agent; Trouble Man; Unknown Soldier; An Unmarried Woman; The Vigilantes; Viva la Bam: The Complete Seasons 4 & 5.
Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes