Reviewed by: Mateusz Tarwacki

"Brunner not only confronts the sacred and the profane on the screen, but also boldly experiments with a real experience of faith." | Photo: Courtesy of Locarno Film Festival

A simple wooden hut, somewhere at the foot of the majestic Alps. Here Johannes (Franz Rogowski) and his mother, Maria (Susanne Jensen), live the lives of modern hermits, completely cut off from civilisation. At the border of modernity, different orders mix and clash with each other: man with nature, and fervent faith, rising to the mountain heights, with the barren, rocky, godless landscape at their feet. Peter Brunner's Luzifer is a portrait of a complex religious emotionality that is as close to illumination as to madness or possession.

Maria and Johannes are not ordinary people. The very choice of names suggests biblical clues. After all, Jan (Johannes is a Medieval Latin derivative from John) was a beloved disciple of Jesus, and he was the only disciple to stay with his master until the very end. Christ, dying on the cross, entrusted to him the protection of his holy mother. Maria in the film chose to live in isolation, escaping from addiction to alcohol and drugs – in her passionate impulses of faith, she looks more like a shaman performing pagan rituals than a holy hermit. But there is also maternal love and tenderness in her – as if, by choosing to live this life, she wanted to keep her son's innocence at all costs. Johannes, on the other hand, has the emotional outlook of a child despite his adult age. He understands simple messages, but is closer to the language of animals than humans.

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Brunner shows faith in a crooked mirror, pointing out that there is only one step from religion to madness. The world of everyday struggle with temptations – or rather with memories of temptations – changes dramatically when drones appear over the Alpine hut. Like an army of technological demons, they are storming the privacy of two hermits, brutally interfering with their reality. No ritual, even the craziest one, can appease a silent God – but maybe it's not God, but Lucifer?

The atmosphere of impending personal apocalypse and emotional tension is emphasised not only by Tim Hecker's music, but also by the charismatic creations of the lead actors. Rogowski uses his experience as a dancer, creating a completely new set of movements for his hero, playing him with his whole body. Jensen, who is not a professional actress, is shocking in the intensity of her emotions. Brunner not only confronts the sacred and the profane on the screen, but also boldly experiments with a real experience of faith. Jensen is a former pastor with an experience of being abused. Her powerful role is a kind of real cleansing, a therapeutic rite of passage.

Luzifer is a work that can be interpreted in many ways, and Brunner does not provide clear answers. There is no doubt, however, that this is a daring display of directing and acting skills and a bold commentary on the ambiguity of faith.

Reviewed on: 15 Aug 2021
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Johannes, a man with the heart of a child, lives secluded in an Alpine hut with his mother. Daily life is governed by prayer and rituals but a tourist development threatens to poison their paradise.

Director: Peter Brunner

Writer: Peter Brunner

Starring: Franz Rogowski, Susanne Jensen, Franz Rogowski, Susanne Jensen

Year: 2021

Runtime: 103 minutes

Country: Austria


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