Jesus, You Know

Jesus, You Know


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

In an early scene in Ulrich Seidl’s 1999 film Models, Elvyra (Elvyra Geyer) struggles to express her inner feelings during a phone conversation to a lover. Repeatedly, she appeals for his understanding without actually saying anything, falling back on that common conversation-filler, “you know”. This phrase is repeated with even more frequency in Jesus, You Know (Jesus, Du Weisst), Seidl’s 2003 film, whose title also begins with that go-to exclamatory stand-in for inexpressible sentiments.

But for a few moments in its characters’ domestic spaces, Jesus, You Know takes place entirely within the walls of six different churches, whose solitary visitors and employees appeal to their higher being for some relief from everyday angst. The film is a succession of casually interweaved vignettes of disparate folks connected by their common beliefs; in this respect, it resembles its director’s 1996 work, Animal Love, which looked at otherwise unconnected Viennese citizens through their love for and relationship to animals. Though thin on plot, Jesus, You Know does manage to draw out something resembling character arcs, by returning to its piously downtrodden cast of theists (playing versions of themselves) in such a way that we keep watching in anticipation of their reappearance.

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As with Models, Seidl seems interested in these people precisely because they’re all too easily judged by others, even though their needs and desires are relatably ordinary. Framed in such a way that their heads often don’t reach beyond the bottom third of the image, Seidl’s virtuous but tortured cast seem as symbolically oppressed as they are materially; it’s as if the air itself is heavy. (Male and female choirs sing beautiful harmonies, meanwhile, in intermittent and respectful asides.)

Marx said religion was the opium of the masses, which meant for him that it was a symptom of, not a solution to, material contradictions; consequently, Marx believed that in order to eradicate religious beliefs you had to eradicate the social problems that led to their formation in the first place. Though it appears (at least to begin with) as some kind of piss-take, Seidl’s film comes to probe and reveal the irreconcilability between material problems on the one hand and the refuge from them that faith promises on the other.

As such, the scaffolds that uphold religion as an institution are dependent upon social pressures and the denial of basic rights: while one teenaged confessor wishes he didn’t wear glasses and that he was athletic and flexible with a rifle in his hand, killing a bad guy (“a real hero”), another prays for her husband, who has relapsed back into alcoholism after being given what she interprets as a second chance (“too little sleep, too much stress”). Jesus knows because Jesus listens: with deadpan hilarity - but utterly serious intentions - Seidl cuts often from his characters’ soliloquies to tellingly inanimate and unchangingly expressionless icons of Jesus hanging high above. Social problems remain.

Reviewed on: 02 May 2013
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The inhabitants of six different churches seek Heavenly help to solve their Earthly problems.

Director: Ulrich Seidl

Writer: Veronika Franz, Ulrich Seidl

Starring: Elfriede Ahmad, Waltraute Bartel, Hans-Jürgen Eder, Thomas Grandegger, Thomas Ullram, Angelika Weber, Tanja Müller, Elisabeth Sucham, Heribert Exel, Saleem Ahmad

Year: 2003

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: Austria

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