Jesus Egon Christ (Jesus Egon Christus)
Written and directed by brothers David Vajda and Sasa Vajda, the intriguing German docufiction Jesus Egon Christus portrays the unravelling of victims of addiction and mental illness in a rehab facility with only religion as treatment.
Central character Egon (Paul Arambula) has an undefined affliction, but by appearance is severely mentally impaired. The film follows his downward spiral as he is indoctrinated with preachings about Christ by a self-appointed pastor (Sascha Alexander Gersak), who has no ostensible qualifications as either a psychologist or addiction counsellor.
An ominous and morose blurry opening shot with a whispered singing of Somewhere Over the Rainbow sets a mood of meagre hope in hopelessness. A collection of sad and highly disturbed psychotic individuals with a tenuous grip on reality are led by the “pastor” to believe their cure is in his interpretation of Christ’s teachings. That the inmates are so extremely ill and desperately in need of professional help heightens the work’s sense of despair – it is as if they are hostages in a forgotten dimension of hell. The contrast of this environment of sickness, incompetence and neglect with the positive healing that takes place in legitimate rehabilitation centres and 12-step programs is stark.
With documentary-style camera work, the characters are observed in a “reality show” intimacy that is unsettling. Primary focus Egon is painful to watch as he descends from barely-there in his semi-consciousness to identifying with and becoming Christ himself. The non-professional players’ performances are excellent and acutely believable. Direction is strong and the evocative cinematography (Antonia Lange) is superb, accomplishing a voyeuristic familiarity with its subjects, while accentuating a feeling of an essential darkness and claustrophobia that pervades throughout.
Vast gloom and freakishness in this piece hint of David Lynch, but without his humour. Though the thesis is made that religion will not cure severe impairment, it can be asked whether closely watching a psychotic’s behaviour for under an hour provides enough depth and texture to the narrative to make it compelling. Though they are actors, there is a feeling that these poor souls are disrespected and exploited. Or then again, maybe that’s the point.
Jesus Egon Christ (Jesus Egon Christus) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
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