“If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion.”
Whenever any director seeks to tackle the subject of religion, he has to become convinced in his own way as to whether the story he tells intends to be an honest attempt for authenticity or just another piece of personal bias. Most take the latter route, finding themselves incompetent to tell a story rooted in intellectual honesty or simply needing to sell tickets at the expense of the community of faith. With The Apparition, Xavier Giannoli embarks on a half-hearted effort to straddle the middle. Painting his main character (Vincent Lindon) at first with the requisite objective allure required of journalism and then turning his insecurity into a conduit for a rooted bias.
The film has a fascinating design, even if it meanders on the premise for far too long only to capitulate to the storyboard of amateur writers. It’s about a Vatican commission for the authenticationg of miracles: part of the interchurch structure for attracting the faithful back to a practice of veneration. The film rests primarily on testing the authenticity of Anna (Galatéa Bellugi) who claims to have seen the vision of the Virgin Mary, largely probing her psychological well-being and her past for evidence of bias. (This process is a lot like the legal process of seeking out impeachment evidence for disqualifying a witness.) The film is also surrounded by a host of unsavory church figures looking to exploit the image of Anna and use her likeness to sell dolls and postcards. These figures see the investigative works of the Vatican as an impediment with the “natural” growth of the community and, if the miracle is debunked, then obviously the pilgrims will seize to return and the peddled goods will be worth nothing.
The film demonstrates a stillness in its ability to connect the corners of one man’s unresolved sorrow and the substance of religious experience in a world seeking understanding. It does well to draw the church dynamics and the corruption that seeps through any man-made institutions. However, it fails to end with any meaningful position, instead removing the source of the investigation in an escalating and rather unintelligible progression of events that are clearly explained but seemingly lack the emotional maturity to deliver a satisfying resolution.