“Faith is twenty-four hours of doubt with a minute of hope.” –Sister Maria
Scandal, doubt, and brokenness cloud Agnus Dei, the new film from French director Anne Fontaine, but hope ultimately and miraculously shines through in authentic, hard-won ways.
Based on true events, Agnus Dei chronicles a convent of nuns in post-war Poland. When several of them suddenly show signs of being pregnant, a Red Cross doctor, Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laage), arrives to assist with the births. In the process, she learns of the tragedy that has befallen this religious community and the lengths to which its members have gone to protect their secrecy and integrity.
Agnus Dei will certainly be one of my favorite films—if not the favorite—of Sundance and, with the right team around it, should be a front runner for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Oscars. It’s a near perfect film with restrained, yet powerful, performances, direction that allows the narrative to unfold in truly revelatory ways, surprising humor, and cinematography that begs translation into still photography. de Laage is captivating and demands a place alongside other European acting sensations like Juliette Binoche and Marion Cotillard.
Unlike so many religious films, Agnus Dei reaches a redemptive, hopeful conclusion that feels completely authentic. It is one in which the best of the church and the world address the weaknesses of the other, healing themselves in the process. Mathilde and Sister Maria arrive at a life-giving conclusion that protects the integrity of the nuns while meeting the needs of the community around them. At nearly every moment, Agnus Dei is that rare, transcendent film of beauty and integrity that should be cherished for generations.