Director: Xavier Giannoli
Cast: Vincent Lindon, Galatéa Bellugi, Patrick d’Assumçao, Anatole Taubman, Elina Löwensohn, Claude Lévèque
Watch The Apparition online in the UK: Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
Following his 2015 film Marguerite, a comedy drama loosely inspired by a true story, writer-director Xavier Giannoli returns with a drama that’s all about determining the truth in a story.
In The Apparition, Vincent Lindon – on reliably compelling form – plays Jacques, a war journalist hired by the Vatican off the back of his reputation as an impartial and talented investigator. They want his involvement for a special assignment: to join a committee performing a canonical investigation to determine the veracity of a saintly apparition in a small French village. A young woman, Anna (Galatéa Bellugi), claims to have seen the Virgin Mary and a fervour has developed around the village, with the local priest, Father Borrodine (Patrick d’Assumçao), cutting off communication with the Vatican and believers making pilgrimages to the area. Some of the pilgrims seem more like a cult, who are exploited by Anton (Anatole Taubman), a Christian equivalent of an advertising wiz making commercial plays in the village.
If any of this sounds worryingly Dan Brown-ish, fear not, for Giannoli’s film is about verisimilitude over pop conspiracy thrills. And the various supernatural elements in the narrative, or rather the investigation of claims of supernatural encounters, do not take this down the route of religious horror in the vein of The Exorcist – upon discovering that an exorcist will be part of the canonical investigation, should a use for them arise, Jacques amusingly suggests he didn’t realise they “still exist”.
Authenticity regarding the minutiae of the investigation drives much of the film’s first half, with a lot of the second dedicated to the physical and emotional toll being a potential saintly figure takes on Anna. Appropriately enough for a story concerning matters of truth, faith and perception, not everything is wrapped up in a neat, fully conclusive bow.
That being said, there’s a difference between a thematically appropriate storytelling device and a satisfying one. Approaching nearly two and a half hours in length, The Apparition ends up proving leisurely paced to a fault, thanks to its aversion to, well, much at all in the way of incident. Despite the length afforded to tell this story, a number of the subplots don’t really gel together all that well for the cumulative whole. And while the degree of verisimilitude sets it apart from ostensibly similar fare concerning religion and apparent miracles, the actual dramatic meat proves very familiar. Since MUBI is the film’s UK distributor, a home viewing may be preferable to making a pilgrimage to your nearest cinema for this one.