Thunder (Foudre) | 2022 Toronto International Film Festival Review

Thunder (Foudre) |  2022 Toronto International Film Festival Review

Jaquier’s Exploration of Spiritual and Sexual Awakening is a divine premiere

Work, marriage, death. These pastoral images of peasant women by long-forgotten Swiss painters and photographers at the turn of the 20th century soberly open Carmen Jaquierguaranteed feature film debut. But it is one photo in particular – Paysannes et baratte à beurre, by Charles Helferich, 1er janvier 1917 – that haunts. Cutting out the subject of the photo, who is churning butter on New Year’s Day, Jaquier zooms in on the almost hidden face of the woman sitting next to him: worn out, defeated and apparently despondent. It is against this unprotected honesty that Lightning (Thunder) rolls on like a silent storm, centering on a young woman’s spiritual and sexual awakening as she makes her way against the limited space women were expected to occupy in the early 1900s. But once she finds God, she’s quick as a lightning marking the devil.

“Lord, you who reveal the truth, keep me in Jesus Christ, your beloved son. Make me a being of hope and keep the secrets of the world away from me, for if I understood them, I would understand what the world really is.” So prays Elisabeth (Lilith Grasmug), who after five years in a convent devotedly solidifying her faith and serving the Lord, is called home when her older sister Innocente unexpectedly dies. On a working farm, there is little time for sentimentality, and Elisabeth’s return finds her trading her spiritual work for physical toil, filling the gap left by her sister. Innocent’s name has become a curse in the household, and any questions about the mysterious circumstances of her death are met with insulting answers (“The devil has taken back his servant” / “We do not pray for the devil’s offspring”). Whatever the secrets, Elisabeth’s younger sisters – Adele (Diana Gervalla) and Paule (Lou Iff) – can know they’re hesitant to share. Elisabeth has been gone so long that she’s practically a stranger to them.

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Carmen Jaquier Thunder

If they aren’t quite the world’s secrets, Elisabeth’s discovery of Innocent’s diary is enough to see her sister and her relationship with God in a whole new light. In a series of entries, Innocente reveals that he had several affairs with local men, but these were not simply carnal pleasures. These were encounters of deep, genuine ecstasy that left her feeling closer and more deeply connected to God than any prayer. Shaken and curious, Elisabeth embarks on her own quest, a pity expressed through the flesh that will lead her to see the light again.

The subject of faith, conviction and innocence may be solemn, but Jaquier’s treatment vibrates with Peter Weir’s sensuality. Picnic at Hanging Rock and the seductive enigma of Sofia Coppola’s work The Virgin Suicides. summer scars (read review) Cinematographer Marine Atlan’s camera captures bodies as she makes landscapes, awed by their power and humbled by their vulnerability. And even if Elisabeth moves a little too quickly as she throws her habit away for a roll on the way, this is tempered by the image’s powerful juxtaposition of her expansive setting in the Swiss Alps and her deep mapping of the intimacies of “blood and lust. ”

It is perhaps not surprising to learn that the images that open Thunder they were all created by men; so is the hypocrisy that Elisabeth discovers within her community where they commune with the blood and body of Christ, but cannot tolerate the action of a woman either in pleasure or in faith. In a climate where women are once again having to fight for autonomy over their bodies, Jaquier’s evocative film resonates and boils with a rage against religious patriarchy. But that never overshadows what is ultimately a tale about the binding forces of sex and sisterhood, forged in the flesh, bound by spirit, and released to the heavens.

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Revised September 10 at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival – Plataforma. 92 minutes


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