Content Note: ableism/cripping up, abuse
Maria (Susanne Jensen) lives off the grid in the mountains with her son Johannes (Franz Rogowski) who has a learning disability. They spend their days mostly quietly and calmly with a lot of prayer and Johannes’ birds of prey. But their idyllic existence is threatened when plans are made to create a skiing area around them – and the developers are desperate to buy their land, unwilling to accept that Maria won’t sell. An evil is coming for Maria and Johannes.
My history with Peter Brunner movies isn’t without its issues, but I have liked his films increasingly more – and Luzifer is probably the one I liked the most so far. It doesn’t always work, but it is definitely engaging.
I saw Luzifer right after The Northman and if you had asked me before which film I will like better, I would have bet a lot of money on Northman. And I would have lost. Contrary to Northman, Luzifer managed to pull me into its world and actually keep me there and with the characters.
The best part of the film is the mother-son dynamic, as problematic as it is. Jensen – who is actually a paster in real life, and not an actor, and who apparently drew on her own life a lot for the role – is amazing as Maria. With Rogowski, I expected nothing less than excellence because he always delivered so far. He does deliver, but at the same time, he is cripping up in the role and that is deeply problematic. In any case, Maria and Johannes together are an interesting mix. Maria has had a difficult path and her belief give her a chance at stability in life. It gives her both the ability to love Johannes (and herself), and the reason to abuse him (and herself). Thus, the film gives us a more complex perspective on religious fundamentalism than we’re used to getting.
The intrusion of the “modern world”, of drones, helicopters and developers, into their sanctuary of a life is perfectly set in scene. Maria often asks Johannes where the devil is – the answer seems pretty obvious: it’s the drones that hover menacingly around them and everything that they signify. But it’s not the only answer the film gives.
In its last chapter, the film loses narrative clarity, I thought, and swerves into ableist stereotypes. As well explained as Johannes’ reaction may be (we can argue about that), it doesn’t change the fact that ultimately he is untrustworthy and dangerous because of his disability. Just how dangerous, by the way, is open to interpretation, but the film does seem to insinuate that he is quite dangerous indeed and has been in the past. If it had gone for a different ending, I would have liked it a lot better.
Summarizing: engaging but not easy and not unproblematic.